Denver raises oil shale-water concerns

Despite a councilman’s warnings that it would “increase the rift between the West Slope and Denver,” the Denver City Council Monday night approved a measure raising concerns about the potential impact of oil shale development on state water supplies.

The council voted 8-2 in favor of a proclamation declaring that “in order to safeguard the long-term safety and security of Front Range water supplies,” it supports the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to require companies to demonstrate the viability of oil shale development and its impacts on water demand and quality before the agency issues commercial oil shale leases on federal land in northwest Colorado.

One of the measure’s supporters on council, Chris Nevitt, said the issue matters to everyone from anglers, hunters and skiers to rafters and agricultural producers.

“It matters to the cities and counties of Colorado, and to Denver, whose citizens and businesses depend on a clean and reliable supply of water to continue to grow and prosper,” he added.

But council member Charlie Brown, elaborating on his rift concerns, said, “Frankly and candidly, if I lived on the Western Slope I would be offended by this proclamation. ‘Here’s big old Denver telling us once again what to do with our water.’”

“… The implication is that Denver has some sort of inherent right to unused water on the Western Slope, and that bothers me.”

He said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of the Western Slope’s Club 20 organization, has warned the measure, if approved, will be seen as an inflammatory statement.

Petersen on Tuesday said she hasn’t seen the finalized version of the proclamation, but the version she saw made it “sound like, well, the Colorado River is the exclusive domain of Denver for growth,” and that Denver would have the same concern no matter what Western Slope industry was involved.

“For instance, you could put a soda pop manufacturer in place of oil shale and they could be saying the same thing,” she said.

Matt Garrington, co-director of the Checks and Balances Project energy issues watchdog group, said Denver’s council simply endorsed the same research-first approach also backed by Western Slope governments such as Carbondale, Rifle, New Castle and Routt County, as well as the BLM itself.

“As we all know, the issue of water is a contentious one for Colorado. The last thing we need to do is be stupid about oil shale and make things worse,” he said.


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