Energy policy — Oil shale: Moffat County files objection to Shell application on Yampa River

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The Moffat County Commissioners — while not against Shell building a reservoir for oil shale production — have filed an objection in water court as a hedge to be kept in the loop on the filing, according to a report from Colin Smith writing for the Craig Daily Press. From the article:

The three commissioners voted unanimously at their Tuesday meeting to file a statement of opposition with the Steamboat Springs water court regarding the energy company’s December 2008 water filing. Commissioners and other county officials said multiple times that the county’s action does not mean it is opposed to Shell’s request. “The fact is, we don’t have a position at this point,” said Jeff Comstock, Moffat County Natural Resources Department director. Filing a statement of opposition is the only way for the county or anyone else to be involved with the water court’s process, he said…

Moffat County has several vested interests in whether Shell’s water is approved, Comstock said. The county has existing water rights on the Yampa River and should be involved when a large request is considered by the court. Not only that, Comstock said, Shell’s existing proposal would “inundate” a county road and make it unusable. Perhaps biggest of all, though, Shell could affect an existing arrangement between the county, local residents and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he added. Under terms of a 2004 agreement, Fish and Wildlife will allow another 54,000 acre-feet of water development on the Yampa River before it requires new users pay for ways to protect four species of endangered fish. If Shell’s water right falls under the agreement, officials worry it could take everything left in the river for development…

Dan Birch, Colorado River District deputy general manager, said his agency’s concerns would be “greatly eased” if Shell voluntarily decided its request would not fall under the existing endangered fish agreement. In that event, Shell would have arrange its own agreement with Fish and Wildlife to preserve the four species. “If suddenly Shell is covered under (the current agreement), their water right filing would essentially use up all the remaining development in the river,” Birch said. “That’s just an enormous issue for any water user, including the power plants, the mines, the (Colorado) River District, Moffat County and any other water users in the basin.”

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