Moratorium maybe?

The latest effort by Congress to promote commercial oil shale development in the West is, we believe, an acceptable compromise.

The measure drafted by Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson would allow the Bush administration to issue final regulations in preparation for the leasing of federal land for commercial oil shale production. But it would also authorize state legislatures in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado to determine whether they want commercial oil shale efforts to proceed immediately.

This newspaper has long shared the view of people like Sen. Ken Salazar and Gov. Bill Ritter that it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to lease lands for commercial oil shale development at this time. The technology is still being perfected and the impact on things like water, air quality and electricity demand cannot be accurately predicted. So it is premature to issue broad environmental rules under which that development can occur.

But Salazar this week said he would drop his insistence that a moratorium be extended at least another year to prohibit the rulemaking and leasing from occurring. Instead, he said he could support the Matheson measure.

Although Gov. Ritter has yet to take a position on the latest proposal, Reps. Mark Udall and John Salazar, who backed the moratorium in the past, said earlier this week they could support the Matheson measure.

But that doesn’t mean it will pass. First off, it is now included as part of a larger energy bill that, because of its dubious offshore drilling provisions (see below) may not become law.

While Matheson’s proposal could be included in a larger spending resolution, there is no guarantee that will happen.

If it doesn’t, and no other action is taken regarding oil shale, then the moratorium would automatically be extended for another year. Given the uncertainty over technology and questions about the impacts of a commercial oil shale industry, that wouldn’t be a terrible outcome either.


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