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Interior Department Nominee Owned Oil Firm Shares

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03/05/2013 | 07:35pm CEST

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's pick to head the U.S. Interior Department, REI Chief Executive Sally Jewell, owns or has recently owned stock in several major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (>> Exxon Mobil Corporation) and ConocoPhillips (>> ConocoPhillips), according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

If confirmed for the job, Ms. Jewell will be in a position to decide how much oil and natural gas drilling takes place on federal lands and waters, while also weighing whether the administration's conservation and environmental goals should prevent new production.

According to the financial disclosure documents, Ms. Jewell has agreed to sell her shares in the energy companies if confirmed and will recuse herself from making any decisions affecting those companies until shedding the assets.

The documents were sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by the Obama administration. Mr. Obama nominated Ms. Jewell for the Interior post in early February. The Senate energy committee will hold her confirmation hearing on Thursday.

According to a Feb. 8 letter sent to the Interior Department's ethics office, Ms. Jewell owned stock in more than a dozen energy companies. Among them are major producers, such Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (>> Anadarko Petroleum Corporation) and Apache Corp. (>> Apache Corporation).

Ms. Jewell also owned shares in service companies like Halliburton Co. (>> Halliburton Company) and Baker Hughes Inc. (>> Baker Hughes Incorporated) that operate in shale formations largely responsible for the recent boom in natural gas production. The companies conduct hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a controversial practice that the Interior Department is proposing to regulate.

The value of Ms. Jewell's holdings in Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips each ranged between $50,000 and $100,000, as of the last reporting period, according to the documents. The value of many of her other energy holdings ranged between $1,000 and $15,000.

Ms. Jewell, who has been CEO of outdoor-equipment retailer REI since 2005, received about $2 million in salary and incentive pay in 2012, the documents show. She also recently received a bonus worth $1.3 million.

It's unclear whether Ms. Jewell sold her stock in any of those companies since Feb. 8. A call to REI was referred to the White House. A spokesman for the White House was not available for immediate comment.

Under the Obama administration, the oil industry has repeatedly urged the Interior Department to open up more lands and waters to drilling. It has also asked the department to speed up the pace of permitting. One benefit to creating robust energy companies, the industry has said, is generating profits for stockholders.

Each year, the Interior Department holds auctions in which energy companies bid for drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico, Western states and other energy-rich areas owned by the federal government.

The agency is also responsible for creating national parks and preventing oil and gas production in environmentally sensitive areas.

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