At the moment this post goes live -- 12 am, October 1, 2008 -- the West will be one step closer to commercial-scale oil shale development. That's because the provision that Ken Salazar inserted into last year's Interior Department appropriations bill forbidding the BLM from issuing final regulations for granting oil shale leases will have expired, despite last-minute efforts by Senate Democrats to keep it alive. President Bush had threatened to veto the this fall's appropriations bill -- known as a continuing resolution because it will maintain funding levels until the next president takes office -- if it included a continuation of the moratorium.
Now that the moratorium is gone, it's likely that the Bush administration will attempt to issue final oil-shale leasing regulations -- the next step towards leasing and actual oil production -- before it leaves office in January. Doing so would satisfy not only the Republicans' oil-industry donors but also the party rank and file who took to yelling "drill, baby, drill" at the national convention.
But it's not not as if there will be shale-cooking towers popping up on public land before the Bush administration leaves office. Whether or not the West is going to find itself rushed into oil shale production ultimately depends on the next president and the future makeup of Congress. The expiration of the oil shale moratorium just serves to highlight one more way in which this election is becoming awfully important for people who care about public lands.