Interior Secretary Wants Probe of Bush Administration Oil Lease Changes
October 20, 2009 - 3:44 PMThe Department of the Interior is rewriting the rules for oil-shale leasing as the secretary called Tuesday for an investigation into last-minute changes made by the administration of President George Bush to favor oil companies.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the Bush Interior Department locked in a bargain royalty rate on 30,000 acres of land for oil companies "without any opportunity for review or comment."
"There are questions about whether the lease addendums are legal or should be rescinded," he said.
Salazar, however, said that before he reversed any of the Bush administration's changes he wants his department's inspector general, Mary Kendall, to determine how the regulations were changed.
The Department of Justice already has launched a probe into whether former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton used her position to steer three of the six potentially lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company she works for now. Salazar said Kendall's probe would be a separate matter.
In addition, Salazar said he was opening a second, more environmentally sensitive round of oil-shale leasing for Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
The Interior Department is offering smaller research-and-development leases that will become available with environmental safeguards and milestones for progress.
Oil companies will have to meet a series of development benchmarks for their leases "so they just aren't held out there forever," Salazar said.
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