Western Resource Advocates Exposes Oil Shale Would Strain Western Water
“Our settlement is a game changer for oil shale development,” said Rob Harris, Staff Attorney for Western Resource Advocates.
When pressed in a court filing by Western Resource Advocates, Chevron USA confirms what oil companies have for years denied - oil shale development in the western United States would use enormous quantities of water thereby straining existing water resources.
In a filing with a Colorado water court, Chevron argued that to meet its goal of developing 500,000 barrels of oil per day from oil shale, the company would require up to 120,000 acre-feet of water (39,102,120,000 gallons) per year, enough water to serve more than 1 million people per year.
Thanks to Western Resource Advocates' case, Chevron's legal filing validates the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and RAND Corporation’s independent assessments that oil shale will use large quantities of water. The oil industry and its allies in Congress had argued for close to a decade those estimates are inaccurate, though no verifiable data was put forth by industry until Chevron. The recently affirmed legal settlement is the first time the oil industry has been accountable for providing verifiable data and the new data refutes industry past claims of oil shale development’s low or ‘net zero’ water use.
Western Resource Advocates call for full disclosure by other companies of their oil shale water demands.
On July 3, 2014, Western Resource Advocates and Chevron USA filed with the Colorado water court a settlement agreement that ends Western Resource Advocates’ challenge to Chevron’s oil shale water rights. The agreement stipulates that Chevron has met the legal requirements to maintain its water rights for another six years when it must return to water court. The agreement further provided that Chevron must provide to Western Resource Advocates five documents that explain how Chevron will use the water and the amounts required. (See below for copies of those documents.)
Importantly, the agreement does not voice support for Chevron's anticipated use of the water for oil shale development in Colorado. Western Resource Advocates opposes the unacceptable environmental impacts of such development efforts.
Background on Chevron’s Water rights for developing oil shale
- Chevron has rights to over 105,000 acre-feet of reservoir storage and comparably significant water diversion rights.
- These rights are conditioned upon Chevron using the water for what’s called in Colorado water law a “beneficial use.”
- The anticipated use is development of oil shale.
- Chevron hopes to develop oil shale on its private land in northwestern Colorado.
Highlights of Chevron’s documents (links to full documents below)
- Chevron’s water demands could total up to 120,000 acre feet, enough water to serve more than 1 million people per year.
- Chevron will require up to 24,000 acre feet of water for each 100,000 barrels per day of oil it hopes to develop from oil shale. Chevron hopes to develop up to 500,000 barrels of oil shale per day.
- Chevron will strip-mine the oil shale, and then develop oil shale in above-ground processors, called retorts.
In Colorado, Chevron, other oil companies, and water districts hold a staggering amount of water rights intended for oil shale development, including the right to divert over 10,000 cfs and store over a million acre-feet in reservoirs. That’s potentially enough water to meet the needs of several million people.
For More information on Oil Shale Developments impacts on Western water, including these water rights is available in Western Resource Advocates' 2009 report, Water on the Rocks.
Timeline of Legal Case Events
- February 2012: Chevron announces it is ceasing its oil shale research activities in Colorado, citing the need to shift “critical resources,” both capital and people, to other priorities around North America and the world.
- May 2013: Chevron files an application with the Colorado water court to maintain decades-old water rights that have not yet been developed.
- July 2013: Western Resource Advocates challenges the application, citing Chevron’s decision to cease its oil shale research in Colorado.
- November 2013 - May 2014: Chevron responds, arguing that it will now pursue strip-mining and above-ground development, an approach the company pursued in the 1980s that did not prove viable. Documents they file disclose for the first time ever that their oil shale development could use up to 120,000 acre feet of water.
- June 2014: Chevron and Western Resource Advocates file a settlement agreement with the water court. The order is signed July 7th.
For questions regarding this legal settlement contact Rob Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 720-763-3713
For copies of Chevron’s documents, please click on the links below:
- Stipulation affirming that these reports represent Chevron's "continued intent and progress toward finalizing the appropriation of the conditional water rights"
- Summary Report: Chevron U.S.A. Inc. Diligence Application for the Getty Oil Company Water System Water Rights
- Supplemental Summary Report: Chevron U.S.A. Inc. Diligence Application for the Getty Oil Company Water System Water Rights
- Evaluation of Water Yields of the Getty Oil Company Water System Water Rights in the Colorado River Basin
- Paul W. Tamm, et. al., Chevron Research Co. The Chevron STB Oil Shale Retort, Energy Progress
- Getty Properties Map referred to in the Summary Report