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Twin Disasters Helped Hone Energy Expert

Tom Michels, a former aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu and a former lobbyist for Shell Oil, is an energy consultant at BlueWater Strategies, February 2014.
National Journal
Mike Magner
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Mike Magner
Feb. 17, 2014, 3:05 p.m.

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.”

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