Trump Names Former Astronaut And Oil Geologist To Lead Key Scientific Agency

James Reilly, 63, has been tapped for director of the U.S. Geological Survey.
James Reilly ll has been tapped to lead the U.S. Geological Survey. 
James Reilly ll has been tapped to lead the U.S. Geological Survey. 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday nominated a former astronaut and longtime oil industry geologist to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

James Reilly, 63, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, spent 13 years at NASA, flying on three space shuttle missions between 1998 and 2007 and logging more than 35 days in space. Before that, Reilly was a chief geologist for nearly 15 years at Dallas-based oil and gas company Enserch Exploration, Inc., where he focused on exploring offshore areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

That work “resulted in the discovery of over 115 million barrels of oil and over 1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas,” he writes on his LinkedIn page. 

Along with his time in space, Reilly spent approximately 22 days in deep submergence vehicles, according to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“Dr. Reilly currently serves United States and allied militaries as a subject matter expert on space operations, and he is a technical advisor supporting the National Security Space Institute of the U.S. Air Force,” the White House noted in a release Friday.

Reilly will replace acting director William Werkheiser.

USGS is the scientific arm of the Interior Department and is responsible for monitoring and studying natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, as well as managing water, energy and other natural resources.

If confirmed to the post by the Senate, Reilly will play a key role in the administration’s efforts to boost America’s production of critical minerals. In a December report, USGS found that the U.S. relies on foreign sources for a majority of the minerals essential in manufacturing, as Reuters reported. 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said the country’s reliance on foreign minerals poses national and economic security risks.

“Other nations are far ahead of us with mapping of their mineral resources, leading to private sector investment overseas rather than right here at home,” Zinke said in a statements last month when he signed a secretarial order aimed at identifying domestic sources. “Drafting a complete topographical and geographic survey of the United States is exactly the kind of task the USGS was created to do.”