GAO calls for study on water requirements tied to oil shale development

A new Government Accountability Office report (pdf) issued this week concludes that a lot more study of water resources needs to be conducted before there’s a full-blown resurgence of the Colorado’s Western Slope oil shale industry.

Actually, resurgence isn’t quite the right word, since the industry never really hit full stride before cratering in the 1980s and leaving thousands out of work and holding worthless real estate. That bust looms large over any sort of new oil shale boom.

Still, proponents of tapping the trillions (the new report says 3 trillion, to be precise) of barrels of oil trapped inside shale rock and sand in the Green River Formation spanning western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and eastern Utah say technology is improving by the day, and the amount of water needed to produce a barrel of shale oil is dropping.

According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the amount of water needed very much depends on the technology:

“The GAO report says the expected total water needs for the life cycle of oil shale production range from about one to 12 42-gallon barrels of water, with an average of five barrels per barrel of oil produced from in-situ operations, in which shale is heated underground to release petroleum products that could be collected via conventional drilling methods.”

Based on previous Colorado Independent reporting, we could have told the GAO that. The real question is whether the ongoing research and development costs stack up to the limited water resources and the potential for other, more sustainable (and less environmentally impactful) forms of energy.

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