Energy policy — oil shale: The debate over potential water requirements goes on

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The debate over the water requirements for oil shale development would seem to be a waste of time since no one really knows how much water it is going to take or the effects on groundwater. Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd told the Colorado Independent a couple of weeks ago that the company feels that the ratio of water to liquid hydrocarbons will be about 3 to 1. Is that an estimate or a calculation based on Shell’s pilot data? That’s why Secretary Salazar is taking it slow and cautiously with regard to leasing.

Here’s a report from Dennis Webb writing for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

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…

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…

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.

From the Durango Herald (Garrett Andrews):

Craig Cooper carries a small piece of sedimentary rock in his bag next to his MacBook Pro when he travels on speaking engagements. Friday it was the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 27th annual Water Seminar, where the Idaho National Laboratory energy specialist held up the innocuous chunk of oil shale and told the audience it’s time to think hard about developing the fossil fuel wisely because, he said, development will happen one way or another. As a scientist focused on energy production, Cooper is passionate in his objectivity. He works at the intersection of water and carbon management, leading research in oil shale development, working both with environmental groups and multinational oil corporations. But for all his enthusiasm, his message is simple:”Policymakers need answers to questions. “The bottom line is that there’s a lot of energy here and people are going to come and get it and that’s going to create problems,” he said.

With this conclusion foregone, Cooper said he works to create transparency in energy development. Some of his ideas sound disconsonant to environmental groups, which he said are often right to criticize certain methods of oil-shale extraction but should know that the function of business is not to perform virtuous, costly acts for free.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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