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Web Extra Friday, May 12, 2006

Bush to nominate new director for U.S. Geological Survey

On March 16, President Bush announced his nomination of Dirk Kempthorne as Secretary of the Interior, after Gale Norton resigned from the position March 10. Now, in the latest shakeup in the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) might soon be under new leadership.

Bush intends to nominate Mark Myers, a former state geologist and head of Alaska's geological survey, as the new USGS director, the Department of the Interior announced May 3. If the Senate confirms the nomination, Myers would replace acting director Patrick Leahy, who has filled the position for almost a year following the June 2005 resignation of Charles Groat. Leahy does not plan to comment until the Senate confirms the nomination, according to a USGS spokesperson.

Myers' nomination was a "pleasant surprise," says Bob Swenson, acting director and state geologist of the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys in Fairbanks. Myers has an understanding of the "big issues," Swenson says, which comes from both a familiarity with policy and a background in the natural sciences.

Myers, who holds a doctorate in geology and is an expert in sedimentary and petroleum geology, led various field programs across Alaska for ARCO, the American oil company that is now a subsidiary of BP. He also served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from 1977 to 2003, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Myers also served for five years as director of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas. He submitted a letter of resignation from that position effective Nov. 15, 2005, however, following a disagreement with Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) about negotiations involving a North Slope natural gas pipeline. The pipeline deal would hurt Alaska's economic future by "creating barriers" for new oil and gas participants, Myers wrote in his resignation letter.

Becky Hultberg, a spokesperson for Murkowski, says the dispute will not affect how Myers would direct USGS. "Mark Myers is a fine geologist, and the governor believes he will do an excellent job in his new position," Hultberg says. His resignation, she says, was over "policy disagreements and was not related to his competence as a professional geologist."

The circumstances surrounding Myers' resignation and dispute with Alaska's governor indicate that he will "unwaveringly do the right thing," says David Houseknecht, a USGS research geologist in Reston, Va., who has worked with Myers in the past. Myers demonstrates an understanding of objective science, free from the influence of "political whims," Houseknecht says. That's why Myers will not likely change the role of USGS in providing unbiased scientific information about oil and drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Houseknecht says.

Leadership and delegation skills gained from prior work will help Myers lead USGS, which has "gone through some tough times," Swenson says. The survey has about 10,000 scientists and support staff across the United States and abroad, tackling investigations into everything from geohazards and minerals to the energy sector, and at times it seems to "get a bit disorganized," Swenson says.

USGS is a couple orders of magnitude larger than any organization that Myers has managed, and issues at the national level are more complex compared to the state level, Houseknecht says. But Myers is "highly intelligent," and has a "demonstrated track record of positive influence," he says.

If confirmed by the Senate as the new USGS director, Myers faces a "daunting task," Swenson says. "But I believe he's very much up to the job."

Kathryn Hansen

U.S. Department of the Interior
Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys
Division of Oil and Gas

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