Paula Gant, Ph.D., a former senior executive with the American Gas Association, was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Oil and Natural Gas, Office of Fossil Energy, U.S. Department of Energy. Gant served as AGA’s senior vice president for Policy and Planning. She joined the team of U.S. Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz in the Obama administration Sept. 9.
She takes the position as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in oil and natural gas production though it has not come without controversy as companies are utilizing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to unlock previously unrecoverable resources. That has led to calls in some quarters for more federal oversight of the practice.
Mark Brownstein, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said “Real questions persist about this nation’s ability to safely produce oil and natural gas resources” without “unacceptable impacts to the air, water and land that put our communities, habitats and the climate at risk of pollution.” His statement said that Gant “has exceptional qualifications and experience engaging environmental advocates and industry stakeholders, finding policy solutions that can work for all sides.”
In announcing the appointment of Gant and another staff member, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Christopher Smith said the department was “fortunate to have attracted such qualified people with relevant industry and technical experience.”
Some environmentalists expressed disdain by the move, insisting it was wrong for the Obama administration to entrust energy policy to an oil and gas industry executive.
“Ms. Gant has played a key role in influencing federal regulations on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said the executive director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, in a statement. “This is not a professional track record that suggests objectivity in regards to shale gas development.”
“Ms. Gant’s appointment is a serious misstep, one that leads us to question the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting its constituents and the vitality of their natural resources,” Hauter added.
Under an agreement signed with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Gant will help coordinate government research into improving the safety of offshore oil and gas development. She will also oversee the Office of Fossil Energy’s research into hydraulic fracturing and its programs to help develop technology for future natural gas development. The Oil and Gas office also is involved in carbon capture and sequestration projects.
The Business Council for Sustainable Energy released the following statement from Council President Lisa Jacobson: “Paula Gant is a champion of a diverse energy portfolio in the United States and understands how a broad range of energy resources??including natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency??can work together to create a domestic energy future that is clean, reliable and affordable for all Americans. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy commends Dr. Gant’s appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for Oil and Natural Gas, Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy, as she will bring a constructive and practical approach to the position, based on her extensive experience working with a broad range of stakeholders.”
AGA’s President and CEO Dave McCurdy, who formerly represented Oklahoma as a member of the House of Representatives, praised his former employee: “Paula Gant was an incredibly knowledgeable and effective representative of the natural gas industry. After joining AGA in 2006, Paula was instrumental in developing public policy and strategy initiatives on behalf of our more than 200 member natural gas distribution companies. Paula was also instrumental in enhancing our outreach efforts and helped build an impressive internal Policy and Planning team, strengthening AGA’s reputation as a credible source of information.”
“One of Paula’s trademarks at AGA was her work with constituents across the spectrum to help broaden understanding of the foundational role that natural gas serves in fueling economic growth while enhancing environmental quality.”
Prior to joining AGA, Paula worked for Duke Energy as vice president of government affairs and energy policy for Duke Energy Gas Transmission. A native of Louisiana, she earned her Ph.D. in economics from Auburn University.