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Water use exaggerated, Shell spokesman argues

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Recent studies have created unnecessary hysteria by overstating likely water use associated with potential oil shale development, an energy company official says.

Tracy Boyd, a spokesman for Shell, told a Club 20 audience Saturday at Two Rivers Convention Center that water consumption is a serious issue that requires planning. But he said studies such as one released earlier this year by Western Resource Advocates “do a pretty significant job of heightening anxiety for oil shale development,” rather than help provide rational evaluation and planning.

Shell has been studying a possible method of oil shale development in Rio Blanco County.

Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental group, defended the conclusions of his group’s research, saying the amount of water rights acquired by energy companies can’t be ignored.

“When we see a huge number of decreed water rights that are out there in the world, it makes us think, ‘Well, gee, we have to plan for that,’ ” Harris said.

The group’s analysis found that enough water rights have been acquired to enable energy companies to divert more than 7.2 million acre-feet a year and store more than 1.7 million acre feet for oil shale development in northwestern Colorado. Exercising those rights could dry up agricultural lands and harm the ability of Colorado communities to meet future water needs, the group said.

Dave Merritt, former chief engineer of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the study includes in its estimates past district rights that have been abandoned.

Harris acknowledged the report contains some errors but said the river district still has a lot of water rights that haven’t been abandoned. While the water rights could be used for other reasons, it’s reasonable to expect energy companies would be interested in them if full-scale oil shale development occurred, he said.

“So I think they’re fair game, frankly,” he said.

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