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Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Colorado): Penry urges caution on oil shale as lawmakers worry about water

EXTRACT: It’s too early to tell how thirsty Royal Dutch Shell’s in situ oil shale extraction process is, especially on a commercial scale, company spokeswoman Jill Davis said.  

By BOBBY MAGILL The Daily Sentinel
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

With oil shale and other Western Slope and Front Range interests at stake in how the remainder of the Colorado River Basin’s water will be divvied up, Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said Monday he believes oil shale extraction technology needs to be proven before the government can speculate about how much water it will consume.

Nonetheless, he called water consumption one of the biggest unanswered questions surrounding commercial oil shale production.

“I always kid my friends on the Front Range that if oil shale comes online, we’re going to start stealing their water,” Penry said Monday.

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said last week he believes commercial oil shale development in northwest Colorado could use up 100 percent of the unappropriated water in the Colorado River Basin. He called that “unacceptable.”

It’s a concern state officials have had for a long time as water managers disagree about how much water is left to be divvied up under the Colorado River Compact, or whether there is any left at all.

How much water may exist depends on a variety of factors, including water demand and the effects of global climate change, Colorado River District spokesman Chris Treese said.

“It is possible any water available to Colorado in the (Colorado River) Compact would be utilized by oil shale development in northwest Colorado,” state Department of Natural Resources Assistant Director Mike King said.

But it’s still anybody’s guess how much water oil shale development will consume.

The state soon will begin a study of water availability in the basin, an issue that likely will emerge in the 2008 Colorado legislative session as Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, tries to get more money for the project, authorized earlier this year under Senate Bill 122.

It’s too early to tell how thirsty Royal Dutch Shell’s in situ oil shale extraction process is, especially on a commercial scale, company spokeswoman Jill Davis said.

A Bureau of Land Management environmental analysis of its commercial oil shale program is expected to address how much water the program might require, but a draft of the report hasn’t been released yet.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act requires the BLM to act quickly to lease land in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah for commercial oil shale development. The agency’s draft oil shale environmental analysis, or programmatic environmental impact statement, is due later this year, with leasing possibly occurring late this decade.

How the state chooses to manage the remaining water in the Colorado River Basin is a tremendous decision, which requires a “methodical” approach, Penry said.

“That’s the reason I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to rush to a commercial decision on oil shale before the R&D (research and development) phase is complete,” he said.

“Let’s figure out a technology that actually works; let’s figure out what that production method will mean for our water and other resources; then let’s make a judgment about the future of oil shale with all of the information in front of us and our eyes wide open,” he said.

Curry said until industry and the BLM release their water consumption estimates for commercial oil shale development, lawmakers can’t say for sure how much water oil shale will consume.

“It’s probably safe to say they’ll use a lot,” she said.

She said the state’s water availability study will yield a range of possible available-water supplies, depending on how wet the year is.

“There may be enough water for commercial oil shale production in a wet year, but I’m assuming they won’t want to shut down their operation when it’s dry,” Curry said.

But water use by a future oil shale industry is more complex than that.

“I don’t think you can make a policy determination (on oil shale),” she said. “It depends on who holds the water rights. (Oil shale companies) acquired a lot of water rights earlier on, and if they choose to develop them for this purpose, it’s not something the state government can supersede.”

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

http://www.gjsentinel.com/news/content/news/stories/2007/08/29/8_29_1a_oil_shale.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=7

Grand Junction Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved. – The Daily Sentinel

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