Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday named former Tulsa District commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Col. Michael Teague as secretary of energy and environment.
The appointment drew concern from some in the state's oil and natural gas industry.
Teague will fill the positions held by former Energy Secretary Michael Ming and former Environment Secretary Gary Sherrer. Teague will begin his new position Sept. 3.
“Strong energy policy is strong environmental policy,” Fallin said in a statement Friday. “In Col. Teague's new role, his mission will be to help develop policies that encourage energy exploration and production as well as responsible environmental stewardship. His years of experience dealing with energy production and distribution, infrastructure development, and water management will serve him well as Oklahoma's first secretary of energy and environment. I am proud to have him on my team.”
The oil and natural gas industry's largest trade group in Oklahoma objected to the appointment.
“The selection process and decision are confusing and questionable. It's unprecedented for Oklahoma's energy secretary to have no working knowledge in the oil and natural gas sector,” Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association President Mike Terry said in a statement.
“We are at a unique era in Oklahoma's history as an energy-producing state. Crude oil production is on the rise after decades of decline. The true potential of our natural gas resources is still waiting to be harnessed. It is difficult to see how a secretary of energy with no working knowledge of the oil and natural gas industry can effectively drive discussions and policy decisions on legislation and regulation that impact the state's most vibrant industry.”
Fallin's office said Teague is still on active duty and “won't be doing interviews for the time being.”
Press Secretary Alex Weintz defended the appointment.
“Oklahoma is an oil and gas state, and it will always be an oil and gas state,” Weintz said. “Gov. Fallin absolutely understands the importance of oil and gas to Oklahoma's economy, to our job creation. The governor herself is a huge proponent of oil and natural gas and at this point is going into her fourth year as governor. She's certainly well aware of the issues facing the energy industry and will continue to do everything she can to promote and support that industry.”
Teague's background with the Corps of Engineers makes him perfect for filling the dual responsibilities of energy and environment, Weintz said.
“He's absolutely familiar with the idea of using natural resources actively to our advantage, but doing so in a way that protects the environment and is environmentally sustainable,” he said.
The location of the new office has not been determined, Weintz said. Deputy Energy Secretary Jay Albert and Deputy Environment Secretary Tyler Powell will remain in their positions.
Despite the reservations of some in the energy industry, Chad Warmington, president of the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association of Oklahoma, said he is impressed with Teague's experience and expertise.
“I'm excited to meet with him and begin talking about how we can use his expertise and the industry expertise we have to make sure we have a long-range plan to maximize the growth and benefit to Oklahoma's energy industry,” he said.
Warmington said he is not concerned about Teague's lack of oil and natural gas experience.
“If I didn't feel like we could get him up to speed on our issues, I'd be concerned. But I'm confident that with a guy who's had that much experience and who has managed that many people, we can fill him in on the holes in his energy resume,” Warmington said. “While he might be light on industry experience, I'm sure he's got a lot of other experience that's going to be helpful in his position and that the industry will benefit from having him there.”
The local chapter of the Sierra Club endorsed the appointment.
“The Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club is committed to meeting with incoming Secretary Teague to discuss the issues we feel are vital to preserve Oklahoma's environment,” said David Ocamb, president of the state chapter. “We are hopeful the incoming secretary will view preservation of the environment as his highest priority and will be a tireless advocate for our state's water, air and lands.”
As district commander for the Corps of Engineers, Teague oversaw 700 employees in engineering, conduction and operations, as well as an annual budget of $700 million.
“Energy exploration and production are the greatest drivers of Oklahoma's job growth and economic success,” Teague said in a statement. “I am thrilled to be in a position to help develop and implement statewide policies, such as the governor's Oklahoma First Energy plan, that encourage the responsible production of Oklahoma's natural resources.”
Teague served as the director of engineering for the Third U.S. Army Central (ARCENT), where he was responsible for supporting all U.S. Army units in the Middle East. Teague has also served as the commander for the 52nd Engineer Battalion in Fort Carson, Colo., and Mosul, Iraq. As battalion commander, Teague was the chief executive officer of a 600-person engineering and construction organization in support of the 101st Airborne Division as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
CONTRIBUTING: Business Writer Paul Monies