Water needs for oil shale development studied

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— The technology required for a future oil shale industry is uncertain. Thus, water demands for developing the resource is also uncertain, a newly published report said.

The study, “Energy Development Water Needs Assessment Phase II — Final Report,” was produced for the Colorado River and Yampa/White River Basin Roundtables by an engineering consulting firm, AMEC Earth & Environmental.

The Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act in 2005, established nine Colorado roundtables to study future water needs for the state’s cities, agriculture, energy development and recreation.

Grand Junction Utility and Streets manager Greg Trainor represented Mesa County municipalities on the Colorado River Basin Roundtable. He met with interested residents July 12 in the Mesa County government building to discuss its study regarding future Western Slope water needs.

“Assuming that the state will double in population by 2050, municipalities will be looking for water,” Trainor said. “We need to get a handle on water estimates for energy development.”

Phase 1 of the report looked at water uses of all conventional energy sectors — oil shale, natural gas, coal and uranium. Much of the information for the report was collected from the Bureau of Land Management, and oil and gas companies.

“In Phase 1, we did not get as much cooperation from (the) industry as we wanted — particularly concerning oil shale development,” Trainor said.

The initial phase of the report found oil shale would require 400,000 acre feet of water per year to support a long-term, high-production scenario that would produce a million-and-a-half barrels of oil shale a day by 2070. That amount of water was based on a Dutch Shell plan that required electrical generation (construction of 12 power plants) to fuel its energy production.

Such an operation would be huge; it would require the construction of power lines, pipelines, roads, additional housing and railroads, resulting in an unrecognizable Western Slope, Trainor said.

After the initial report was published, the commercial oil shale industry said the study’s water estimate was too high.

The roundtables’ energy subcommittee agreed to reexamine its estimated water demands from oil shale development — this time with industry sharing more of their information.

Phase two of the report showed a dramatically reduced water estimate of 120,000 acre-feet.

The report identified three water projects in the White River Basin that could meet an annual energy industry demand of 110,000 acre feet of water. Most years, the Colorado River could meet an additional demand of 10,000 acre feet,

The state projects a future water gap of between 600,000 and a million acre feet of water as the number of water users increase.

Other demands for water — including municipality needs — likely would target agriculture, Trainor said. Small allocations from thousands of farmers could potentially be affected.

Policy makers are urging conservation before taking water from agriculture, Trainor added.

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