GAO's report re limited water supply relating to oil shale

December 7, 2010

Last week the Government Accountability Office issued a report concerning limited water supply in the West in the context of oil shale. 

Background --In January 2007 BLM granted 5 research, development and demonstration (RD&D) 10-year oil shale leases to 3 companies within Colorado's Piceance Basin.  These first round lessees were granted the ability to expand the 160-acre leases to 5,120- acre commercial development leases after conversion from the RD&D status to commercial development.  In October Department of Interior nominated 2 companies for second round RD&D leases which are `160-acre parcels that can be expanded to 640 acres if they meet criteria set by Department of Interior.  They are ExxonMobil and Natural Soda Holdings (and in Utah, AuraSource). 

Presumably, the first round lessees are continuing to conduct research to determine whether the resource can be extracted in a commercially viable process.  Specific information as to the amount of water that would be required to develop the resource commercially remains unavailable.

CWF is very concerned about the cumulative adverse impacts to wildlife in the Piceance Basin as key wildlife habitat continues to shrink in the face of extensive gas leases, coupled with oil shale leases.

GAO Report -- GAO reported, "There are insufficient data to understand baseline conditions of water resources in the oil shale regions of Colorado and Utah and that additional research is needed...."  As companies work to develop technologies,  in its report, the GAO noted, "Federal agencies also said they seldom coordinate water-related research among themselves or with state agencies that regulate water." Critical questions about water needed to produce commercially viable quantities of the resource must be answered.



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