Shell Oil moving ahead with plans for oil shale production

RBC — It was a big news week for Shell Oil.
First, it was announced Jan. 7 that Shell had filed for water rights on the Yampa River. The water would be used for the company’s future oil shale operations.
Two days later, Shell announced it was moving forward with its plans to develop commercial oil shale production in northwest Colorado.
“Shell has been accumulating water rights for a few decades in the region,” said Tracy Boyd, Shell spokesman. “We have rights on the Colorado (River), White (River) and Yellow Creek, and perhaps soon on the Yampa. Our strategy is a diverse system of water, so we have the flexibility of alternate sourcing for our needs, while also minimizing impacts on other users.”
Shell applied Dec. 30 to use about 8 percent of the Yampa’s peak spring water flow. Boyd said water from the Yampa would be transferred to a reservoir for later use in oil shale production.
“We will primarily just be taking water during peak spring flows” Boyd said. “At 375 cfs (cubic feet per second), we could fill the reservoir in about two months. We sized the reservoir around our anticipated water needs, considering that it is part of our larger system to use, as we can, to meet our needs while not creating particular impacts on other users.”
Asked how long before Shell will know if its water request is approved, Boyd said, “It depends on the level of opposition and the court process. Maybe one to one and half years.”
Glenn Vawter, executive director of the National Oil Shale Association in Glenwood Springs, said it made sense for Shell to apply for water rights in the Yampa.
“I am not surprised that Shell would file for rights on the Yampa,” said Vawter, who spoke last September in Rangely. “Water is needed for oil shale and many of the developers already have water rights on the Colorado, White and Yampa rivers. And they have rights to use water in existing reservoirs like Ruedi and Green Mountain.”
Meanwhile, Shell will resubmit its application to test its freeze-wall technology on federal lands in the northwest part of the state. It could take about a year for officials to act on that application as well, Boyd said.
Also this month, Sen. Al White of Hayden announced his intentions to initiate legislation for governing how and where oil shale can be developed in the state.
“I am not up to speed on the details (of White’s plan), but any constructive move to encourage responsible development of oil shale in Colorado would be useful to those conducting expensive research and development in our state,” Vawter said.
Boyd, too, while not aware of the specifics of White’s proposal, said the senator was a proponent.
“We don’t actually know what he plans to propose, other than what we’ve read in the media,” Boyd said. “We do know that Sen. White is a general supporter of oil shale development and that he recognizes the many benefits it would bring to the region.”