Water a main concern in oil shale’s future

RIFLE — The highly concentrated levels of oil shale in northwest Colorado would help limit the amount of acreage disturbed if commercial development of the resource occurs, a speaker told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board on Thursday night.

However, the level of disturbance where any development might take place would be significant, said Jeremy Boak, director of the industry-funded Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines.

Boak said oil shale development would have less of a region-wide impact on the land than has been seen with local natural gas development.

That’s thanks to the world-class richness and unmatched density of the region’s oil shale resource, which has underground concentrations of as much as a million barrels of oil per acre, he said.

But where any oil shale development might occur, “you will for a time essentially have scraped off the surface if you’re doing a process like Shell’s,” Boak said.

Shell is trying out a project that involves heating up shale in place underground and drilling wells to bring it to the surface. Several other companies also are exploring ways to develop oil shale in place rather than through surface mining.

Boak said the biggest environmental challenge for shale development is water — how much is used and how quality is affected.

“I think air quality may really come down to issues of dust, because you will have traffic just as you do now” with natural gas development, Boak said.

He said a big consideration for him is the potential local socioeconomic impacts and the question of how much in royalty revenues would be available to address them, particularly after the federal and state governments siphon off some of those revenue.

“I think that’s a huge issue. Universities can’t help there a whole lot. We can try to raise the issue, though, and I do, often,” Boak said.

Boak said Congress tends to be opposed to funding fossil fuel research, but he thinks there would be a benefit to conducting a federal study of the potential impacts of oil shale development should it occur.


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