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Rocky Mountain News: Shell wants camp for 600

By Gargi Chakrabarty
February 21, 2007

Energy behemoth Shell wants to build a temporary living quarters for 600 workers near its drilling site in Rio Blanco County as it dramatically ramps up oil shale operations on the Western Slope.

The company discussed its plans for the “man camp” at a community meeting on Tuesday in Meeker, attended by scores of residents. Shell will hold similar meetings in Rangely, Grand Junction and Rifle over the next couple of days.

The proposed camp, which needs county approval, would be next to the company’s existing temporary living quarters at its private Mahogany oil shale test site near Meeker, which currently has about 150 workers.

Communities are concerned that the camps bring a migrant population who put added stress on public services.

“There is a need for extensive infrastructure to support these man camps,” said Kathleen Sullivan, of Meeker. “Families often follow the people engaged in energy development; the impact on schools is large and extensive as students come in and out of schools. . . . In the long term, it becomes a transient community population.”

Shell recently received federal approval to lease three, 160-acre plots in Rio Blanco County to test its proprietary oil shale technology. The company, if it receives the permit approvals on time, plans to drill about 200 wells in one of the leased plots beginning next year. It hopes to have the camp and access roads built before then.

“We are working with county planners to help us figure out how they’d prefer the layout at the site, how the facility would look – whether it would be one-story or two-story,” said Shell spokeswoman Jill Davis, referring to the proposed camp. “We have two designs that include a rec center, a pool table room, a workout room and a kitchen that provides food 24-7 – but we haven’t made any decision.”

Shell expects employment to reach 600 during peak construction. It said it prefers to contract with companies that will hire local workers.

Davis said similar plans are in the pipeline for the remaining two plots as Shell continues to test its proprietary technology to pull oil out of the rocky basin.

Shell has said it won’t make a commercial decision about oil shale before 2010, although its hiring of former Interior Secretary Gale Norton has sparked speculation that the decision might be made sooner.

Some people are skeptical about Shell’s plans.

“We have gone through numerous booms and busts in oil shale’s lengthy history,” Sullivan said. “We have yet to see any commercial development of the product. It’s always a spin; it’s always a new technology, a new promise that if we had oil at $40 or $50, oil shale would become a reality, but that’s never been the case.”

Sullivan, who was born and raised in the area, attended Tuesday’s meeting to hear more about Shell’s ideas. She recalled how oil shale and the accompanying camps and their transient populations disrupted the area’s social fabric.

The United States holds more than 50 percent of the world’s oil shale resources, the equivalent of 2.6 trillion barrels of oil, of which 1.5 trillion barrels are recoverable. Most of the oil shale is in the Green River Basin in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Shell is testing a technique to extract the oil that aims to reduce surface damage. It involves drilling holes and inserting heaters in target underground zones to slowly heat layers of shale.

Once heated, the rock releases a combination of two parts oil and one part gas, which is pumped out through conventional means.

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1 Comment on “Rocky Mountain News: Shell wants camp for 600”

  1. #1 James Ross
    on Mar 28th, 2007 at 18:16

    Our company is currently designing extremely strong,highly insulated, modular homes and offices that can be skid mounted to transport between different sites. Please advise of your requirements. Jim Ross

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