Why Ken Salazar Wants to Investigate a Bush-Era Oil Rule

October 21 2009, 11:44 AM

Salazar, KenInterior Secretary Ken Salazar called for a formal investigation yesterday into environmental rule changes---such as allowing bargain rates for royalties on large swathes of land leased for oil-shale development without any opportunity for review---made in the waning days of the Bush administration, saying they favor oil companies. In a conference call with the press, Salazar said he might reverse the rule but, before he does, wants his department's inspector general, Mary Kendall, to probe the conditions that led to the change, according to The Associated Press. Add that to the inquiry of another Bush-era appointee, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who is under Justice Department scrutiny for allegedly helping the company for which she now works, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, secure lucrative oil leases. Royal Dutch Shell's name arises again in the issue Salazar wants investigated, as well as Chevron Corporation and Total SA. They are all among the companies that hold or invested in joint ventures with domestic oil-shale leases, according to Bloomberg, which notes that the United States could have 1.5 trillion barrels of oil reserves locked in shale stone.

If so, that's more than the total verifiable crude reserves of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, but the oil in the shale is extremely difficult to get at and can harm the environment, opponents claim. Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that internal e-mails from the Bush administration show Interior officials expected changes in the rules to be like a "nuclear bomb" of public controversy and came up with ploys to persuade the incoming Obama administration not to overturn them.