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RBC I A controversial proclamation made by the City and County of Denver regarding the potential connection between protecting the supply of water pulled from the Colorado River Basin for the Front Range and the future of oil shale research, development and production sparked a speedy response from Rio Blanco County’s commissioners.
As one of their final official actions in 2012, the RBC commissioners unanimously approved a proclamation in response to the City and County of Denver.
Citing potential threats to the future of Denver’s drinking water supply, water rights, and the protection of water quality, the Denver proclamation supports restrictions and hindrances on the ability of industry to seek and apply for lease related to oil shale production.
A Dec. 17 article in the Denver Post quoted Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown as saying, “the (Denver) council’s proclamation could be seen as meddling in the affairs of the Western Slope…My concern is this policy and document will increase the rift between the Western Slope and Denver. I really believe that this proclamation is unwarranted, unnecessary and unjustified.” Brown voted against the proclamation.
The Denver Post article also quoted Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez as saying, “I don’t really trust Denver Water with our water. I don’t think it is a board with much oversight… We have a say and it matters. When it comes to water, absolutely.” Lopez voted in favor of the proclamation.
The Board of Commissioners for Rio Blanco County, Shawn Bolton, Ken Parsons and Kai Turner, were quick to respond to Denver’s proclamation with a proclamation of their own, refuting most of the statements in the Denver proclamation and pointing out the importance of oil shale development to Rio Blanco County and northwestern Colorado to the state and nation’s economy.
The official proclamation from the City and County of Denver reads as follows:
Proclamation No. CP12-0955
In Support of the Current Approach Proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the Regulation of Oil-Shale Development
WHEREAS, the State of Colorado is projecting that by 2050, even after taking into account ongoing conservation efforts, statewide municipal and industrial water demand will increase between 50 percent and 80 percent over 2008 water demand levels; and
WHEREAS, even without the addition of new water-intensive industries, such increases in water demand may intensify competition for already strained water supplies throughout Colorado; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Government Accountability Office has estimated that full-scale commercial extraction and processing of oil-shale in the Colorado River Basin could require as much water as 140 percent of the entire annual water consumption of the Denver metropolitan area alone; and
WHEREAS, the Colorado River supplies a significant portion of the municipal and agricultural water needs of the Front Range, and the Front Range Water Council has expressed concern that commercial extraction and processing of oil-shale in the Colorado River Basin could directly impact water resources, water development, and water supply for Front Range communities, and “could significantly affect the Council’s ability to serve existing customers and the future growth projected for the Front Range”; and
WHEREAS, companies exploring oil-shale development in the Colorado River Basin have already accumulated over 200 water rights decrees, some of which are senior to the water rights under which the drinking water for Denver and other Front Range municipalities are currently supplied; and
WHEREAS, the extraction and processing of oil-shale on a commercial scale remains a speculative and experimental enterprise, with uncertain economic prospects and a well-documented history of issues with pollution and ground-water contamination.
BE IT PROCLAIMED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER:
Section 1. That the Denver City Council recognizes that ensuring a clean and reliable supply of water is vital to the long-term prosperity and success of Denver and other Front Range cities.
Section 2. That in order to safeguard the long-term safety and security of Front Range water supplies, the Denver City Council supports the current approach promulgated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management requiring that, prior to initiating any commercial leases for development of oil-shale deposits, companies seeking such leases must first demonstrate the technological, economic, and ecological viability of oil-shale development, and the impact that extraction and processing of oil-shale will have on statewide water demand and water quality.
Section 3. That the Clerk of the City and County of Denver shall attest and affix the seal of the City and County of Denver to this proclamation and that copies be transmitted to Helen Hankins, Colorado State Director of the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management; Mike King, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; John Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado; and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
PASSED BY THE COUNCIL December 17, 2012
In protest, the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners released the following proclamation on Dec. 20, 2012:
A PROCLAMATION OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF RIO BLANCO COUNTY COLORADO IN PROTEST OF CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER PROCLAMATION CP12-0955 AND THE ACTIONS OF THE UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT RELATED TO THE LEASING OF PUBLIC LANDS FOR OIL SHALE RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS IN RIO BLANCO COUNTY, COLORADO.
WHEREAS, the Green River Formation is estimated to hold in excess of a trillion barrels of recoverable oil with the richest beds being in the Piceance Basin within Rio Blanco County in Northwest Colorado; and
WHEREAS, the United States, even with increased domestic production, imports 58 percent of the oil it consumes and could benefit economically and politically from reducing dependence on foreign oil; and
WHEREAS, seven of the eight oil shale Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) leases, all investigating in-situ methods, are in Rio Blanco County in the Piceance Basin; and
WHEREAS, Rio Blanco County, although strongly supportive of a research first approach to oil shale development, is in opposition to and has protested the BLM’s decision to fragment and reduce the acreage available for leasing and research in the Piceance Basin from its 2008 Record of Decision; and
WHEREAS, the Denver City Council and other opponents of oil shale development cite United States Government Accounting Office (GAO) projected water consumption which fails to acknowledge the much lower consumption projected when in-situ extraction and modern technology are used; and
WHEREAS, energy demands on water have been accounted for in the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI) and an effort in conservation measures and a realistic new supply by the front range is necessary to insure 1922 compact obligations continue to be met; and
WHEREAS, an overview of the state of oil shale research, including water consumption and documented problems with the GAO Study was presented to the Denver City Council by the Director of the Center for Oil Shale Research and Technology at the Colorado School of Mines during their work session when their proclamation was considered; and
WHEREAS, the Denver City Council’s assertion that oil shale extraction and processing on a commercial scale has “… a well documented history of issues with pollution and ground-water contamination,” has no factual basis within the State of Colorado; and
WHEREAS, the only significant contamination from oil shale research to date has been the possible release of heavy metals native to the Green River formation as a result of room and pillar mining at Anvil Points, Colorado, which was remediated in 2011; and
WHEREAS, the EPA has documented eight superfund cleanup sites in the City of Denver and none in Rio Blanco or Garfield Counties where all previous oil shale extraction activities have occurred in Colorado; and
WHEREAS, water quality in the Northern Piceance basin is rigorously monitored and data is publicly available at rmgsc.cr.usgs.gov/cwqdr/Piceance/NPiceance.shtml;
Now therefore, it is proclaimed by the Board of County Commissioners of Rio Blanco County, Colorado:
Section 1: The Denver City Council has taken a position on Western Slope water which is not based in fact but rather on a desire to redirect economic growth from Western Colorado to the front range of Colorado and is without merit.
Section 2: The BLM’s reconsideration of the conditions and available acreage within the Piceance Basin of northwestern Colorado for Research, Development and Demonstration leases is not supportive of the development of this resource which has the potential to provide energy independence for the United States.
Section 3: The Clerk of the County of Rio Blanco shall attest and affix the seal of the County of Rio Blanco to this proclamation and transmitted copies to Helen Hankins, Colorado State Director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Mike King, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, John Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado, and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Approved and Adopted this 20th day of December, 2012.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS Rio Blanco County, Colorado
Shawn J. Bolton, Chairman
Kenneth C. Parsons, Commissioner
Kai M. Turner, Commissioner