Two disasters served as bookends for the Capitol Hill career of Tom Michels in the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The 39-year-old energy expert joined Landrieu's staff not long after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and he left to join Shell Oil just as BP's gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was capped in 2010.
"The challenges were really pronounced," Michels said Friday as he packed his bags at Shell to move to the energy consulting firm BlueWater Strategies. "At the same time it was an opportunity to try new things" as the federal and state governments scrambled to respond to the dual catastrophes.
Of course, it wasn't disaster relief that attracted Michels to work for Landrieu, a Democrat who just last week rose to the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Michels connected with Landrieu while he was director of public affairs for the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore energy producers — and providers of the lifeblood of Louisiana's economy.
Michels grew up in Cheverly, Md., and was educated just north of Capitol Hill at Gonzaga High School before heading to La Salle University in Philadephia. His first job out of college was back in Washington with an association for public transit agencies. He moved on to NOIA in 2000.
After earning a master's degree in international relations at the University of Chicago, Michels returned to his home turf and landed a job with Landrieu as principal policy adviser for energy, environment, agriculture, and related appropriations. He became the senator's legislative director in 2009.
"I came to love the oil and gas business," Michels said. That passion led him to a lobbying position with Shell in October 2010. As the energy giant's senior adviser for government relations in Washington, Michels has focused on "downstream issues" for all of Shell's businesses — oil, natural gas, chemicals, pipelines, shipping, and trading — and more recently on what the company calls unconventional oil and gas development, better known as fracking.
His move to Bluewater Strategies was prompted by the opportunity to work with an old friend and colleague, McKie Campbell, who joined the firm last year after serving as a top aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and as Republican staff director to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"It's a culmination of my past lives," Michels said. With a background in a trade association, the federal government, and the private sector, Michels said he is well positioned to offer "a lot of strategic advice to companies in the energy realm."