Shale oil hopefuls grabbing water rights in Colorado  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The Denver post reports that oil companies are busy acquiring water rights in Colorado to pave the way for shale oil extraction - Oil-shale plans create ripple.

Oil companies have amassed more than 250 water rights for oil-shale development, giving them a key share of the flow of the Colorado River and the White River, according to a Western Resource Advocates study.

Many of the water rights are also more senior than those held by Front Range water suppliers, and that could hamper plans to bring more water over the mountains for towns and cities, the study said. "Large-scale oil-shale development could create problems for us and other users," said Denver Water manager Chips Barry.

Six oil companies have filed for 7.2 million acre-feet of water rights on the Colorado and White rivers — equal to the entire allocation for the Upper Colorado River Basin. The companies also control 104 agricultural irrigation ditch companies in the region, the Boulder-based environmental law center found.

Oil companies "have cornered the market" on the Western Slope water rights, said Karin Sheldon, Western Resource Advocates executive director.

Harris Sherman, the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said "oil shale could be a game changer," and the state's role is to balance the need for water for energy development with the state's other needs.

"There are a lot of assumptions being made," said Tracy Boyd, a spokesman for Shell Exploration & Production — one of the companies trying to develop oil-shale extraction. "We have acquired a number of water rights to maintain flexibility so we don't impinge on other users," Boyd said.

It will be decades before oil-shale development is viable, and the amount of water it will need is being overestimated, said Exxon Mobil spokesman Patrick McGinn.

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