Ex-Interior Secretary Norton to join Shell as Counsel

Royal Dutch Shell Wednesday said it hired Gale Norton, who stepped down as interior secretary on March 31, to serve as a counsel for the oil company.

Norton will be based primarily in Colorado, and will serve as general counsel for a Shell division that's developing technology to enhance oil recovery oil shale and extra heavy oil, Shell spokeswoman Destin Singleton said in a statement.

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

The Minerals Management Service has come in for particular criticism, after agency omissions excused the oil industry from paying royalties on Gulf of Mexico leases. 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.