Advocates: Oil Shale Will Deplete Water Resources

Jul 8, 2014

  An environmental group says developing oil shale in the West would require enormous amounts of water – and it’s pointing to a recent court case to back up its argument.

A court settlement last week between Western Resource Advocates and Chevron resulted in the disclosure that Chevron’s plan for developing oil shale in Colorado would require up to 120-thousand acre-feet of water annually.  That’s more water than Salt Lake City uses in a year.

The group’s oil shale policy advisor, David Abelson, says this confirms what they’ve always suspected – that large-scale development of oil shale would put a huge burden on water supplies across the West.

“It took a court filing," Abelson told a conference call with reporters.  "It took a challenge from Western Resource Advocates to be able to get this information out of industry.  And now these companies can no longer hide behind the claim that it won’t require a lot of water.”

Here in Utah, Red Leaf Resources is developing a commercial project to extract energy from oil shale mined on state land south of Vernal.  Company spokesperson Jeff Hartley says the group is overstating the case.  He says Red Leaf will use water for its mining operations, but extracting usable oil from the rock won’t use any.

“When you heat up the rock," Hartley tells KUER, "the rock actually has water that it sweats off or gives off in vapors.  You capture that and re-use it.  We may find that, in fact, we’re producing as much water as we need, but we don’t know that yet because we’re just building the first commercial demonstration project now.”

While Utah, Colorado and Wyoming have large deposits of oil shale on public land, the federal government has only made a limited area available for development, in part because of concerns over water.  Red Leaf operates on state school trust lands.