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Business business and politics: former Bush Interior Secretary Takes Job As Attorney For Shell

Former Bush Interior Secretary Takes Job As Attorney For Shell
By Todd Wilkinson, 12-27-06Gale Norton is back providing oversight of energy development issues on public lands in the American West, this time as a key legal advisor for a major global oil company. Months after she resigned her cabinet post as President Bush's Interior Secretary—and then seemed to disappear from public view—the Coloradan apparently has accepted an offer to serve as counsel for Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Shell, one of the world's largest producers of oil, was also one of the companies that Norton's Interior Department routinely engaged on matters of drilling in sensitive ecological settings. According to Dow Jones Market Watch, which published her job announcement Wednesday, Norton will serve as general counsel for Shell's unconventional resources division. By "unconventional resources," a Shell spokesman said it pertained to emerging technology that targets such things as oil shale and extra heavy oil. Shell's U.S. subsidiary, Shell Oil Co., is based in Houston, but Norton will be allowed to render her legal expertise from Denver. The timing of Norton's career move is certain to raise eyebrows from government watchdogs and environmental groups that long have asserted that Norton, her former deputy at Interior J. Steven Griles, Vice President Dick Cheney through his national energy strategy task force, and Congress gave energy companies preferential treatment by opening up coastal areas as well as western and Alaskan lands to increased oil, gas, and coal development. Shell has focused a significant part of its resources in the past on drilling offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and in other coastline areas of the world. Early in 2007, Democrats who now control the House and Senate, plan to hold hearings that closely scrutinize Interior's dealings not only with oil and gas companies, which have received billions of dollars in subsidies during times of record profits, but also the department's relationship to convicted felon and lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Indian tribes for which Interior has a trust obligation and a role in permitting gaming casinos. During Norton's tenure at Interior, rules pertaining to the permitting of oil and gas were eased, allowing the Bureau of Land Management to speed up the leasing process for natural gas extraction in controversial areas like the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, across the state in the Powder River Basin and in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. Another matter that may indirectly involve Norton is the fact that the Minerals Management Service which operates under Interior's umbrella waived royalty payments assessed against private oil companies, for two years running, owed the U.S. government on federally permitted leases in the Gulf of Mexico. "Shell, historically one of the biggest industry players in the Gulf of Mexico, was one of five oil companies that reached an agreement with the MMS on Dec. 14 to pay royalties on the 1998 and 1999 leases," Market Watch reports. "An MMS spokesman said lost royalties from the leases amounted to $900 million, but other reports have quoted much higher figures. A Government Accountability Office report said the MMS omission cost taxpayers $10 billion." Still another lingering issue, timely in the wake of the Abramoff scandal and central to calls for ethics rules reform involving political appointees and retired civil servants, is the so-called "cooling off period" following government service and before an individual goes to work for a company that he or she previously regulated. Readers who are interested in more information about the activities of Shell and its subsidiaries in the inland West can read a report compiled by the Environmental Working Group titled "Who Owns The West? Oil & Gas Leases."

Posted Date: 
27 December 2006 - 7:09pm