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Shell Game? DOJ Probing Former Interior Sec.’s Oil-Company Dealings


September 18, 2009, 9:08 AM ET

By Ashby Jones

Gale Norton, a secretary of the interior in the Bush Administration, now works as an in-house lawyer in Denver for Royal Dutch Shell. In 2006, while she was still in office, her department granted three tracts in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary for shale exploration. Also while in office, she reportedly had conversations with the oil company about future employment.

Was her discussing potential job opportunities at the time illegal? The Justice Department is investigating. Click here for the NYT article, here for the WSJ story, here for the LA Times piece that broke the story.

DOJ sources told the WSJ that the investigation is still in its early stages.

A Shell spokeswoman said the company has been notified of an investigation by the government, but declined to comment further. The spokeswoman told the WSJ said Norton wasn’t available for comment.

During Norton’s tenure at Interior, she came under criticism from the agency’s inspector general, Earl Devaney, for tolerating what he characterized as a pattern of ethical lapses involving agency officials, including her deputy, Steven Griles. Griles pleaded guilty in 2007 to lying before a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who is now in prison.

The department’s dealings with energy companies that lease government-managed land have been frequently faulted. Last fall, an investigation by Devaney’s unit found that employees at an Interior Department office responsible for collecting royalties from oil and gas companies broke government rules by accepting gifts from and having sex with industry representatives.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced the termination of a program—administered by the same office—that allows companies to give the government in-kind payments for oil and natural gas taken from federal land and waters, rather than paying cash royalties. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the program would be replaced by “a more transparent and accountable” payment system.

WSJ ARTICLE and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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