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The Grand Junction Sentinel (Colorado): River district scores $300k to study energy’s impact on water supplies

EXTRACT: Jill Davis, spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell, which plans to commercially produce oil shale in the Piceance Basin, said it’s highly unlikely the company will release information about its long-term water consumption and oil production because such information is speculative.

By BOBBY MAGILL
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Commercial oil shale, tar sands and increased natural gas development are likely coming to the northern Colorado Plateau, and the state is struggling to figure out how much water all that drilling will suck from the Colorado River.

Now, the Colorado River Water Conservation District has the go-ahead to study whether the water needs of oil shale, tar sands and natural gas development in the region will have negative consequences on the area’s water supply.

But state water managers want cooperation from the energy industry.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a request Tuesday for $300,000 by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and the Yampa-White-Green River Basins Roundtable for the river district to conduct the study.

Each roundtable requested $150,000 from the board under Senate Bill 179. That law, championed by Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, and signed last year by former Gov. Bill Owens, dedicates $10 million each year to pay for roundtable-supported water projects.

The river district estimates that oil shale development alone will increase annual water consumption in northwest Colorado by about 150,000 acre-feet for every 1 million barrels of oil that are produced each day, and the region must be able to provide water for an additional 70,000 oil shale workers, according to the basins’ grant application.

That’s a problem because a 2003 statewide water-needs assessment never accounted for the water requirements of the energy industry.

“Potentially, this is the largest gap between (water) demand and water supplies in the state,” according to the river district’s application. “The purpose for planning for the increased demand for water from oil and gas development is to avoid catastrophic consequences to the way of life in the Yampa/White and Colorado River Basins.”

Rick Brown, the board’s section chief for intrastate water management and development, said he is concerned the oil shale industry has been too protective of information about how much water commercial oil shale development will use.

“We ought to meet with the energy industry and talk frankly about what their water needs will be,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources Director Harris Sherman said, adding he’s concerned about the lack of information coming from the industry.

Jill Davis, spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell, which plans to commercially produce oil shale in the Piceance Basin, said it’s highly unlikely the company will release information about its long-term water consumption and oil production because such information is speculative.

Information about cumulative impacts of oil shale development depends on the market and oil prices, she said.

Figures for the total water consumption from oil shale development could change as technology changes, said Jeff Devere, who represents the town of Rangely on the Yampa-White-Green River Basins Roundtable.

But, “when you look at just natural gas development, there is a serious need to do a long-range, water planning that has not been done,” Devere said. “When you put oil shale and tar sands into that, it just magnifies the impact even more.”

Board member John Redifer, of Grand Junction, said coal development in the region shouldn’t be ignored.

The amount of water that total regional energy development could consume could be so huge, he said, it “would bring us close to cleaning the cabinet out, so to speak.”

Brown said the river district didn’t specify a time frame for the completion of the study, but Devere said it will “dovetail” with a Bureau of Land Management environmental impact statement for the agency’s tar sands and oil shale development program, a draft of which is expected to be released later this year.

The board also approved $250,000 for an enlargement of the Eagle Park Reservoir, $40,000 for a Roaring Fork River Watershed assessment, $30,000 for a Grand County stream-flow-management plan and $200,000 for an analysis of upper Colorado River endangered-fish-recovery alternatives.

On Monday, the board supported an agreement with three Lower Colorado River Basin states to continue cloud seeding on Grand Mesa, in the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan river watersheds and over the San Juan Mountains in an attempt to bolster Colorado River stream flow into Lower Basin states.

Water authorities in Arizona, California and Nevada each agreed to contribute about $36,600 to the effort.

Bobby Magill can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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