Ex-Interior Secretary Norton to Join Shell as Counsel

HOUSTON, Dec 27, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSA) Wednesday said it hired former U.S. interior secretary Gale Norton to serve as a counsel for the oil giant.

The move comes amid rising scrutiny on Capitol Hill of Norton's former agency's dealings with the oil industry.

Norton, who stepped down as interior secretary on March 31, will be based primarily out of Colorado, and will serve as general counsel for Shell's unconventional resources division, Shell said.

Shell "is currently engaged in developing and testing proprietary technology designed to enhance oil recovery from certain unconventional sources, such as oil shale and extra heavy oil," Shell spokeswoman Destin Singleton said in a statement.

Singleton said Norton wouldn't lobby in Washington on behalf of the company, but she had few other details on the nature of the Denver-based position. Norton is slated to join Shell in mid-January, she said.

Norton's hiring comes at a tough time for her former agency. With the Democratic takeover of Congress, leading lawmakers have signaled they will closely scrutinize the Interior Department's policies for collecting oil and gas royalties from public lands.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a senior Democratic congressman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the new Democratic congressional majority would "drill pretty deep" to assure that "hefty subsidies and tax incentives are stripped from the oil and gas industry." He lambasted Shell's hiring of Norton as illustrative of the "hand in glove relationship between Big Oil and the Bush administration's top Interior officials."

Responding to Markey's comments, Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said, "at Interior, one of our focuses is on reducing America's dependence on foreign sources of energy."

The Minerals Management Service has come under particular criticism, after agency omissions excused the oil industry from paying royalties on Gulf of Mexico leases from 1998 and 1999. Incoming Democratic committee chairmen plan hearings on the matter.

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. 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.

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