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Denver Post: Oil shale power needs stir alarm

Conservation groups see new power plants, vast increase in air pollution
By Nancy Lofholm
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/26/2007 01:40:03 AM MDT

Commercial production of oil shale in western Colorado will require new power plants that will greatly increase pollution, according to an analysis released Monday by a coalition of conservation groups.

The same groups that two weeks ago publicized the vast water needs for commercial oil shale production attacked the power needs for oil shale production as envisioned by the federal government.

One million barrels per day will require an estimated 12,000 megawatts of capacity annually, the groups said. That is three times all the electricity produced in Colorado in 2005.

A spokeswoman for Shell, the company doing the most extensive in-the-field oil shale research, said the company is working on lowering its power needs from the current estimate.

“We have acknowledged in the past that our method is power-intensive,” said Jill Davis. “We are working on ways to reduce that.”

The environmental coalition that has been highlighting the potential impacts of commercial oil shale development is arguing that decisions about commercial leasing of federal lands for oil shale should be slowed down.

The federal government has issued research and development leases to three companies in Colorado that are studying new ways to melt shale rock in the ground and extract oil and gas from it. Commercial leases are planned to be released in several years.

Legislation pending before the House of Representatives would slow the Bureau of Land Management’s leasing process..

“It’s a fool’s errand to unlock commercial leasing before more is known,” said Robert Randall, staff attorney for Western Resource Advocates.

Randall said a consultant for the coalition came up with pollution predictions using information about power needs gleaned from several sources, including a 2005 Rand corporation study and a 2004 U.S. Department of Justice analysis.

The predictions show production of a million barrels of oil per day could:

Release more than 105 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, a roughly 80 percent increase in the carbon dioxide emitted by all electrical generating units in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Increase sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions by more than 35,000 tons each year.

Have a significant impact on visibility in protected areas around the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado.

“The new power plants needed for oil shale production would exact public health consequences that would seriously undermine any benefit from oil shale projects,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Davis said Shell is researching the possibility of using gas produced from shale as a power source.

Other than ruling out nuclear power, the company has not determined whether other sources would be coal, oil, wind or a combination.

Staff writer Nancy Lofholm can be reached at 970-256-1957 or

[email protected].

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_6228615

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