A congressional investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the amendments raised eyebrows because of their "last-minute timing" and, perhaps because of the speculative nature of oil-shale development, they included "rates that are lower than any other oil and gas leasing rates on federal lands."
The amendments "shortcut any semblance of due process and shortchanged American taxpayers, all to benefit an industry whose technologies have not been proven commercially viable, environmentally sustainable, or good for local communities," said Chase Huntley, a policy advisor for the Wilderness Society, a conservation group.
In their internal e-mails, Shell officials discussed the need for increased certainty to help shale development move ahead, concerns over the environmentalists' litigation, and how to boost Shell's "competitive position" in the energy industry.
Frits Eulderink, Shell's vice president for unconventional oil, opposed Norton's suggestion of bringing up the lawsuit challenging the shale development regulations, because it "sounds like we admit it might well be wrong but we now quickly lock in on it, before it is 'corrected.' "
Terry O'Connor, a Shell vice president who works on oil shale, suggested that the company exclude technical experts from the initial discussions with government officials, so that Shell staff could "beg off of tough questions." O'Connor and Norton did not return phone messages seeking comment this week.
Eulderink said in a brief phone interview that he did not specifically remember the e-mails, but that "it's not unusual to think, OK, what's the best way to represent the issue?" in a case such as the lease addenda. "That happens all the time," he said.