Watering the shale patch

The amount of water required for a commercial oil shale industry in Colorado may be significantly less than originally thought, at least according to a recently released study of potential water requirements — perhaps only 120,000 acre feet of water a year, instead of 400,000. That would certainly be welcome news, should a commercial oil shale industry ever materialize.

The study conducted for two river basin roundtables in Colorado highlights two other important facts. One is the continuing uncertainty, not just about the future of oil shale, but what a commercial industry might look like. We still don’t know what technology is most viable and therefore, how much water might be required.

The study also makes clear, once again, the incredible importance of natural gas to this region. A large part of the water savings in the report is tied to an oil shale industry that depends on natural-gas-fired electrical generators rather than coal plants.


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