CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained a photo cutline misspelling Tommy Beaudreau's name.
On a recent trip to Anchorage, Alaska, Tommy Beaudreau stopped by the sledding hill near his elementary school. “I remember thinking it was like Everest,” he said. Today, that hill looks like a beginner’s slope to Beaudreau.
What will be a tall challenge for Beaudreau is his gig as the director of the Interior Department’s new, and separate, leasing arm—the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. BOEM is the result of an Interior reorganization, which grew out of lessons learned from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. On Oct. 1, Interior’s former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (and before that, the Minerals Management Service) split into two separate agencies—BOEM and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is tasked with inspections, enforcement, and the safety of offshore oil and gas operations.
Beaudreau, who joined Interior two months after the BP spill began in April 2010, played a big role in the reorganization, along with current safety bureau director Michael Bromwich. The two came to the Interior Department from the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver, & Jacobson, where they focused on internal investigations, assisting public agencies in crisis to assess their problems and restore their credibility. (One of their more notable investigations involved the Houston Police Department’s crime lab, identifying problems with its operations and making recommendations for its improvement.)
After the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf, Bromwich and Beaudreau were tasked with applying their experience in accelerating reforms to Interior’s offshore-drilling oversight program.
Beaudreau still remembers when the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989. The spill, which happened when he was a junior in high school, had “a major personal impact” on him, he said in an interview at the Interior Department.
“It was heartbreaking, to say the least, to see what that catastrophe was doing to the state and that region,” he said. “It was a very intense sort of emotional experience being around for that.”
To Beaudreau, Exxon Valdez brought home the message that he is putting forth as the head of BOEM today—that overseeing the nation’s energy production is a delicate balancing act.
Just as he knows the catastrophic effects of an oil spill, Beaudreau is also familiar with the importance of energy production and of jobs for a region and the nation as a whole. Although he was born in Colorado, he moved to Anchorage as a small boy when his father got a job with an oil-exploration company, working on the North Slope. But in the late ’80s, due to an economic downturn and slumping oil prices, his father was laid off and went on to work as a defense contractor.
“You understand the job opportunities and the economic importance of all of it, but you also understand how horrible it can be if it goes wrong,” Beaudreau said. “I bring that experience with me every day on this.”
Beaudreau stayed in Anchorage until he graduated from high school. He then studied history at Yale and went to law school at Georgetown. Aside from a short stint clerking for a federal judge in Virginia for a year, he spent his entire legal career at Fried, Frank, before joining the Interior Department.
Interior and the oil and gas industry were never really on Beaudreau’s radar earlier in his career. But after the Gulf spill, he saw an opportunity to become involved in an issue that not only hit close to home but was important to the nation as a whole—energy production, which he sees as one of the top two or three issues facing the U.S.
“To have the opportunity and to reflect on my own experience … was something I’ll always be grateful for,” he said.