By Nancy Lofholm
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/15/2007 12:53:44 AM MDT
Grand Junction – Representatives have been buying land for Shell in the desert west of Grand Junction, but the company won’t divulge why it wants the acreage.
Most of the purchases have been made near Mack in the mostly barren stretches of land west of 10 Road and along U.S. 6 and 50. Some residents have been toting sales and contracts, and say the company has bought thousands of acres.
Roy Howell, a commercial appraiser with the Mesa County assessor’s office, said he doesn’t know how many acres have been purchased because the land is being bought in other names and by three large companies – Shell, Marathon Oil and Cam-Colorado LLC.
“I know there is a tremendous amount of sales taking place out there,” Howell said.
One of the representatives whom some sellers have identified, Craig Burbage of the Denver area, apologized and said: “I’m not at liberty to discuss this.”
Shell spokeswoman Jill Davis was mum about plans.
“I’m not allowed to talk about it until we get all the land bought that we need,” Davis said. “I don’t know when we’ll be able to discuss all our land and water plans. We’re trying to prevent a speculation environment. We’re trying to say, ‘Don’t worry about that right now.’ ”
The lands in western Mesa County are about 80 miles as the crow flies from the site of Shell’s experimental oil shale project in the Piceance Basin of Rio Blanco County. Shell is cooking oil out of the shale with underground heaters and also is testing a wall of frozen water to keep groundwater out of the heated area.
The Mesa County lands do not contain the rich shale of the Piceance Basin.
But the land is close to a working coal mine where a large expansion is planned and Cam-Colorado is purchasing railroad rights of way. That has given rise to speculation Shell could locate a coal-fired plant there to provide power needed if Shell produces oil from shale commercially.
“They have promised at some point that they will come and let us know what they are doing,” said Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis. “It’s all speculation at this point.”
Shell government affairs manager James Thurman said it would be fall or later before Shell reveals its plans.
The Mack area also contains water rights that could aid in Shell’s estimated need for two barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced.
One resident said he was approached about giving Shell a right of way for a water line. Another was contacted for his opinion about having a power plant in the area. Others say they have heard Shell bought the land along U.S. 6 and 50 for an office complex and refinery.
Shell is one of three companies that have contracts with the federal government for oil shale demonstration projects on public lands.
Chevron and EGL Resources also plan to experiment with methods of heating shale in the ground rather than mining and cooking it aboveground – the expensive method that led to the oil shale bust in 1982.
The basins of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are estimated to contain 800 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil – more than triple Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves.
Staff writer Nancy Lofholm can be reached at 970-256-1957 or email@example.com.