Justice Dept. probes ex-Bush Interior Secretary Norton over oil shale leases

Former Colorado attorney general and Bush administration Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton is being investigated by the Justice Department for allegedly brokering a deal with Royal Dutch Shell to provide the oil company with potentially lucrative oil shale leases in Colorado in exchange for a job.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has been looking into the matter since the waning days of the Bush administration and has found enough evidence of wrongdoing to refer the case to Justice, making Norton the first cabinet-level Bush administration official to be the subject of a formal criminal probe.

In 2006, after the now-infamous Energy Policy Act of 2005 allowed O&G companies to hold multiple oil-shale research and development leases, the Bureau of Land Management issued six such leases (five in Colorado), including three to Shell Oil.

There are hundreds of billions of barrels of oil trapped in the shale rock and sands of the Green River Formation in northwest Colorado, eastern Utah and southwest Wyoming. But it’s expensive, potentially environmentally devastating and a massive water drain to obtain commercially viable crude oil.

Companies have been working for decades to find a way to make oil shale production work, including a huge boom and bust on Colorado’s Western Slope in the early 1980s that devastated communities and left thousands out of work. The issue has become highly politically charged in Colorado in recent years.

According to the Times, Norton is also being investigated for breaking a federal “denial of honest services” law, which allows prosecutors to go after government officials for violating the public trust by using their position to enrich family or friends.

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