Inhofe oil-shale attack on Ritter uninformed by Colorado River realities

Maybe if the Colorado River flowed through Oklahoma –- a feat geographically challenged Colorado Republicans like Scott McInnis and Bob Schaffer could probably pull off -– then Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wouldn’t be so hot to develop oil shale.

Inhofe, part of a partisan ambush of Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter Tuesday during his testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, apparently hadn’t read a recent University of Colorado report on the dire condition of the Colorado River if current drought conditions and usage patterns continue.

The new CU study published in the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research found that reservoirs along the 1,450-mile lifeline of the American Southwest could be fully depleted by the middle of the century if current conditions persist (they’re currently at just 59 percent of capacity). Pressure on the river is exacerbated by unprecedented energy production over the past decade.

Inhofe questioned why Ritter was on hand to tout green energy jobs in Colorado when the state is sitting on so much undeveloped oil shale. But numerous studies have indicated full-scale commercial oil shale production could suck the river dry. Even industry officials have acknowledged the thirsty nature of the extraction process, which at minimum will require two to three barrels of water per barrel of oil produced.

Oil and gas companies since the 1950s have been acquiring water rights in the Colorado River drainage – senior rights that could preempt agricultural and recreational users on the state’s Western Slope if and when oil shale ever moves into full-scale commercial production.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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