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!!!

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January 30, 2018 5:57 am

A competent, qualified person to run a US government agency. One down, 5,000 agencies to go!

Caligula Jones
Reply to  rbabcock
January 30, 2018 7:51 am

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!!!)…

Reply to  Caligula Jones
January 30, 2018 1:56 pm

The SJW acronym is doublespeak. The actual acronym should be Anti Social Sycophant.

January 30, 2018 6:12 am

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.

Randy in Ridgecrest
January 30, 2018 6:17 am

David, what do you think the core mission of the USGS is (or should be)?

Phil Rae
Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 6:54 am


Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 7:12 am

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.”

Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 7:54 am

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

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 8:55 am

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.

Reply to  Randy in Ridgecrest
January 30, 2018 6:59 am

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.

Reply to  paqyfelyc
January 30, 2018 8:08 am

The US has huge public land reserves, and Canada has huge Crown Land reserves. There is a need for federal expertise in both countries. The key is to define a clear mandate with a focus on science. I wouldn’t trust the universities at all, and the private companies need a watchdog from a respectful distance. A key is to keep the bureaucracy from growing into a political monster.

Reply to  paqyfelyc
January 30, 2018 8:41 am

It’s time to revisit this article:
Are we making progress in dismantling the “command control centre of climate alarmism”?

Reply to  paqyfelyc
January 30, 2018 2:51 pm

The US has huge public land reserves, and Canada has huge Crown Land reserves.
as a Canuck this really irks me. we don’t even own our Canadian public land. instead it is crown land.
why does it matter? visiting the US the default for public lands is for the use of the public. in Canada no such animal. the default is you must get the crowns permission.

Reply to  Randy in Ridgecrest
January 30, 2018 9:17 am

I’ve got it, polar bears in space!

January 30, 2018 6:56 am

If we get any more foxes in this hen house, the chickens will self-deport! Winning!

John Garrett
January 30, 2018 7:14 am

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.

Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 8:41 am

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.

John Garrett
Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 10:39 am

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.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 12:44 pm

@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.”

Reply to  John Garrett
January 30, 2018 7:40 am

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.

Gary Pearse
January 30, 2018 7:21 am

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

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 30, 2018 8:02 am

That’s because it was then a colony; the UK Geological Survey being founded in 1835 and the UK Geological Society being founded in 1807.

January 30, 2018 9:11 am

The hiring practices at USGS in recent years also need to be investigated.

J Mac
January 30, 2018 9:32 am

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

January 30, 2018 9:35 am

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

AGW is not Science
Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 12:25 pm


Reply to  GeologyJim
January 30, 2018 11:15 am

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.

Reply to  GeologyJim
January 30, 2018 11:33 am


January 30, 2018 9:40 am

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

January 30, 2018 10:06 am

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

January 30, 2018 10:23 am

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.

Reply to  David Middleton
January 30, 2018 12:22 pm

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.

Stephen Richards
January 30, 2018 10:37 am


January 30, 2018 11:32 am

Start by closing the high cost offices like Seattle.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  ResourceGuy
January 30, 2018 2:01 pm

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

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
January 30, 2018 6:52 pm


January 30, 2018 1:21 pm

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.

Warren Blair
January 30, 2018 1:55 pm

Creeping socialism just got Trumped again!

January 30, 2018 3:19 pm

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.

January 30, 2018 5:53 pm

Good to see that adults are now getting leadership positions.

Dario from Turin (NW Italy)
January 31, 2018 12:46 am

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…

January 31, 2018 7:30 am

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.

January 31, 2018 7:56 am

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.”

Reply to  Doug
January 31, 2018 10:45 am

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.

January 31, 2018 1:22 pm

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.

Tom Bakewell
January 31, 2018 1:36 pm

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

Bob Burban
February 1, 2018 8:14 am

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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