Former Petroleum Geologist and Retired Astronaut Dr. James Reilly Nominated to Direct U.S. Geological Survey

Guest celebrating by David Middleton

Dr. Reilly and I were co-workers at Enserch Exploration in the 1980’s and early 1990’s…


Dr. James Reilly on Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2001. Science Magazine.


Retired astronaut picked to lead U.S. Geological Survey

By Paul VoosenJan. 26, 2018

President Donald Trump plans to nominate James Reilly, a former NASA astronaut and exploration geologist, to lead the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the White House announced today. If confirmed, the 63-year-old Reilly would lead a science agency whose researchers monitor for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, among a host of other duties.

According to an interview from several years ago, Reilly first applied to be an astronaut in the 1980s. Working full-time as an exploration geologist for Enserch Exploration, an oil-and-gas company based in Dallas, Texas, Reilly eventually earned his doctorate in the geosciences in 1995 from the University of Texas in Dallas.

The degree apparently brought his academic credentials up to NASA’s standards, and the agency selected him to be an astronaut candidate in 1994. Reilly eventually flew on three Space Shuttle missions, logging 856 hours in space, including five spacewalks. Like many of his peers at the time, his work largely focused on assembling the International Space Station. He retired from NASA in 2008 and has since had stints in the private sector, including serving as a senior administrator for the American Public University System, a for-profit online university started in the 1990s. Reilly currently serves as a technical adviser on space operations at the U.S. Air Force’s National Security Space Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado.



Congratulations Jim!!!

59 thoughts on “Former Petroleum Geologist and Retired Astronaut Dr. James Reilly Nominated to Direct U.S. Geological Survey

    • Yes, but you can almost hear the SJW heads explode as they try to compute “qualified scientist” (Good), “astronaut” (Double Good) with “Petroleum” (Very, Very, VERY Bad!!!)…

  1. Great pick. We will need an internal investigation of how this agency might have been mismanaged or misdirected in the past, along with many more agencies of all shapes and sizes. They were part of the WH scare PR queue where agencies took turns releasing AGW nonsense statements. More research like the coral studies of the AMO record need to be done done and modeled.

    • Firstly, polar bears shouldn’t be part of the USGS’ core mission.
      The USGS should be focused on geology, geophysics, hydrology and other geosciences as they relate to the benefit of these United States of America. It’s essential to get the basic geoscience right in order to catalog geological resources and geological/geophysical hazards, in order to support the US economy.

      • You mean stick to it’s Mission Statement? That’s no fun!
        The U.S. Geological Survey was established by an act of Congress on March 3, 1879, to provide a permanent Federal agency to conduct the systematic and scientific “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.”

      • Unfortunatley, USGS has been infected by the Green Mob. Hopefully Dr. Reilly can get them back on mission.

      • Unfortunately, the venerable USGS has morphed into the de facto USBS because nobody in Congress had the guts to actually authorize a Biological Survey — to henceforth formally be known as the USBS.

    • Who need “U.S. Geological Survey” anyway? This kind of knowledge belongs, respectively, to university (geological department), industries (mining, building, or whatever depends on geological facts), and risk-management agencies (the local one, those really concerned with the current local issues, each being different).
      Federal agencies should be simply killed. NASA, FBI, NSA, EPA, FDA, etc. All of them. Just all of them. The good they do, would be done otherwise, and we can get rid of the evil they do.

  2. Please don’t shoot the messenger— but Enserch wasn’t exactly the gold plate standard of effective and efficient hydrocarbon exploration in the early-mid ’90s.
    In fact, reserve replacement and finding cost performance was abysmal.

    • +10 for spelling Enserch right. Most people put an “a” in it.
      I worked for Enserch Exploration as a geophysicist from 1981-1997 (my first real job), in the offshore group from 1988-1997. I often say that we learned all of the mistakes at Enserch we needed to avoid in the future. Management wasn’t always the most competent… Particularly regarding its assessment of the Travis Peak sandstone in East Texas.

      • I worked for Schlumberger in the 80’s, and we did a lot of work for Enserch in it’s big field near Athens, Texas. Wonder if we were ever involved in the same projects.

      • You are a gracious and bright fellow.
        I don’t even want to think about the mistakes that I made while learning how the world works. I was, for the most part, careful to try to ensure that I was the one who paid the “tuition” for that education.

        • Our Director of Drilling puts the following phrase in his email signature…
          “You figure it out as you go, you make mistakes, but being open to those older voices in your life, and those mentors, can help you avoid some of the mistakes we all make early in our careers.”
          Aaron Rogers, Green Bay Quarterback

      • @David Middleton
        My father’s advice to me (among several pithy sayings):
        “Learn from other people’s mistakes. It costs less and doesn’t hurt nearly as much.”

    • Who did better? It seems to me that the low hanging fruit has already been picked. If it hadn’t been for directional drilling and fracking (and to a lesser extent deep drilling), the energy landscape would be very different.

  3. Gee David, Would you believe the Geological Survey of Canada was created in 1842, 37 years before the USGS?

  4. Excellent! Competence, experience and pragmatic leadership returns to another of our national agencies.

  5. What a great choice for USGS Director! An accomplished researcher with substantial experience in the private sector and the space program.
    I wish him well restoring the USGS to its original mission of fundamental earth science research and applied studies in geologic hazards, fuel and mineral resources, water resources, hydrology, and topographic/geographic mapping and documentation of the land surface. As a retired (40-year) USGS geologist I strongly believe there are nationwide issues (with global import) that this national agency is appropriately configured to study and address, including hazards, resources, hydrologic basins/rivers, and coastal environments that span multiple state areas. USGS has a long tradition in working cooperatively with state agencies, universities, and municipalities to address these matters.
    I hope Director Reilly, however, can rein in and substantially reduce the biological sciences component that got stuffed into USGS back in 1994 when the Congress disbanded the Clinton-Gore National Biological Service. Many of the biologists/ecologists were culled from Fish & Wildlife, Park Service, BLM to form the NBS, but they should be returned to those agencies for wildlife management purposes – or released.
    Much of the biological component of USGS today consists of ecosystem modeling, climate impact studies (all based on RCP 8.5 “scary scenarios”), handwringing about extinctions and “ecosystem degradation” – with little hard observational science. Goodbye, and good riddance

    • Several decades ago (1994 sounds right) a number of former biological offices, in mostly Interior I think, were moved to USGS. I was told that this was because there was flaky biology being done and the science would be better under USGS. Moving agencies around has been going on since there were agencies.
      Of the marine science disciplines I have dealt with (all the real ones), geologists rate on average higher than biologists. Maybe that is because I know more, or more likely because (I would guess) there are more biologists than geologists in academia and government. Stats would be interesting. A couple of years ago I was camped in west Texas near a geology field trip. Someone with me heard a student in the rest room say something to the effect that this was nonsense, I thought it was just sitting behind a computer screen. So I guess geologists still know something about field work.

  6. First order of business, drain that region of the swamp and get the agency back into geology and out of climate propaganda.

  7. Imagine, the USGS being directed by a real *geologist* rather than a self-styled ‘environmental scientist’!

  8. I had the pleasure of teaching the theory and use of moisture/density gauges to USGS folks in the ’90s in Lincoln Nebraska. All good folks and dedicated to their work. Because I taught the class for free, the real pleasure came when they in turn gave me an education on their work. Their geologic and hydrologic maps are exquisite and extensive. Dang few areas in our country that they hadn’t mapped in more than one way. l highly recommend visiting a USGS office. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to see much of the work on-line now-a-days, visiting them will be a pleasure because they delight in showing off what they do. RE Dr. Reilly: I don’t know you sir, but congratulations. The synergy of an infectious thirst for knowledge, especially useful knowledge, seemed to me to be a big part of the USGS mission. Keep that going.

    • Way back in the Pleistocene (my college days), a group of us drove from New Haven up to Hartford to visit with the Connecticut Geological Survey… They were thrilled to show us what they were working on. I think that’s a geologist thing… 😉

      • Hi Dave – the rudimentary knowledge they imparted to me was invaluable when I would explain to the public and legislatures the effects of a low-level radioactive waste site on an aquifer . So many think an aquifer is some big underground lake and the water moves like a river. As you know, even with draw-down, it generally moves pretty dang slow (depending on topography and a lot of other factors). I had a perfect example from USGS data which showed that even with seepage from a waste site, by the time it reached the nearest well, the radioactive material would be decayed away. It was fun slapping down the anti-nuclear types with these facts, but they always came back with some other horse pucky. I also would do a “day with a scientist” gig at the local natural history museum once a year. I would park my table next to the displays of minerals or fossil bones. With my meter, I would walk the folks and kids down the displays and could always find something radioactive. Fossils were especially good because I could bring in the hydrology processes which led to the preferential uptake of uranium in fossil bones. The USGS was a great resource.

    • Seems to me the USGS is much needed in the Puget Sound (Seattle office).
      The work (coastal field work) of Brian Atwater and colleagues has informed of the danger of the Cascadia subduction zone, and also inland faults.
      Consider that 50 years ago this region was considered a “seismic safe” place so buildings, highways, bridges and such were not built for what is now known.
      “Catch up” is now underway.
      The orphan tsunami of 1700

  9. Thanks for the enjoyable reads here and the thread on provable oil reserves on Javier’s post. Sounds like USGS has suffered mission creep, which is not all that unusual.

  10. buddy of mine owns a small commercial orchard in Hawaii. he bought an abandoned oil rig he came across while on vacation in Texas and shipped it to Hawaii to drill for water because water costs were killing his business. a small 1 man operator he didnt have the funds to hire someone to run the rig. otherwise he would have paid to have a well drilled. how hard can it be. but try as he might he couldn’t get the drill to go straight. it kept turning horizontal.
    one day he is visiting the volcano and ends up by chance talking with a visiting senior scientist from the USGS. turns out he was an experience drill pusher. came over to the orchard and in short order they had the rig drilling straight and successfully tapped the fresh water lens under Hawaii.
    true story.

  11. As an Italian geologist, the USGS has allways been a light-house for me and my mates…. lot of envy for all the work they were doing…. After congratulating with Dr. Reilly, I just hope he could bring back the USGS to his old duty and mission…

  12. I recall a discussion much the same as what we are having today 30 years ago, with a geologist stating “the USGS was created to map the country. They need to get back to their original purpose” (“Mapping the country” can pertain to many things beyond a geographic map—seismic risk maps, oil and gas reserves, water resources etc.)
    I have to agree, and have hope for the new management. Mission creep and expansion is always a problem in government agencies, and it would be nice if they put some energy into updating our basic topographic maps. It is embarrassing how out of date they are, and how much better, for example, the French maps are.

    • Funny story about topo maps. When I started working as a geophysicist for Enserch in the early 80’s, I generated a number of prospects in East Texas from old 2-d data that I had reprocessed. Most of these prospects required at least 1 new seismic line to be shot to confirm the prospect. So, I laid out the lines on topo maps and sent them to the seismic contractor in Tyler. Almost invariably, I would get a call telling me that my proposed seismic line was in a lake. The East Texas topo maps hadn’t been updated since ~1975 and a lot of dams had been built in the previous decade.

  13. Interesting commentary from 1995:
    “With an annual budget of $580 million, the USGS dedicates more than half its efforts to analyzing the country’s water resources. It is also the largest map-making agency in the United States, with about 80,000 maps available to fill more than 1 million annual requests from hikers to engineers. In the USGS Geologic Division, scientists like Lucy Jones study and monitor all types of hazards such as volcanoes, floods and drought. Earthquake study is the largest program in this division, costing about $50 million annually. The USGS does such a good job that other government agencies give it about $300 million from their budgets for scientific work.
    The new Republican majority in Congress, however, does not see the USGS in quite the same way. For two years, Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) advocated and nearly succeeded in abolishing the USGS. Now Kasich is chairman of the House Budget Committee, with considerable power in determining which agencies will live or die. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the agency represents unnecessary expense.”

    • I recall the comments from USGS employees during the Arab oil embargo. During those Jimmy Carter years gasoline use was restricted at federal agencies… the field study team hired a helicopter for their work instead because jet fuel was unrestricted.

  14. So, I thought I’d look at what the USGS budget is today. It is about 4% of what is requested to add a wall and other new security along the Mexican border.
    “The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would receive $922 million under the Trump administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget proposal, a sharp reduction from the $1.085 billion in the FY 2017 omnibus spending plan signed into law on 5 May. The 15% funding loss would apply to the fiscal year that begins on 1 October.

  15. By any chance is Dr Reilly related to one of my esteemed mentors, John Reilly, Pennzoil’s chief geophysicist, for many a productive year?
    Tom Bakewell

    • I don’t know. I don’t remember him mentioning back when I worked with him (1988-1994). I’ve only had a chance to visit with him a few times since he left Enserch to join NASA, most recently in 2011 at the AAPG convention.

  16. I was associated with a medium-sized mine start-up in the early 1990’s when shortly thereafter the operator decided the mine geologist was surplus to requirements. A month later they’d managed to ‘lose’ the orebody, so the mine geology position was re-opened; the mine is still operating, some 27 years later.

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