Edited by Douglas S. Kenney and Robert Wilkinson
Chapter 4: Oil Shale and Water
Bart Miller1 INTRODUCTION The nation’s most concentrated deposits of oil shale rest in northwestern Colorado. Further deposits of oil shale, as well as tar sands, lie in a larger region that also includes portions of northeastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming. For over a century, commercial ventures to tap oil shale as a fuel source have repeatedly ended in failure. Proponents suggest that oil shale, sedimentary rock which contains extractable hydrocarbons, is critical to meeting our future energy needs. Skeptics say it is a perpetual mirage. Most agree its development raises many issues: political, economic, and environmental. A key issue in the extraction of fuel from oil shale and tar sands is the demand for water. Especially in western states, increasing demands for water strain a scarce (and shrinking) supply. Water in the West has long been used to meet mining, agriculture, hydropower and urban demands. Additionally, in recent decades there has been an increasing awareness of water’s irreplaceable role providing non-consumptive benefits, including instream uses for recreation and the environment. These instream values have their own intrinsic benefits but also drive a growing economic sector. Expenditures on fishing in interior western states (not including the coastal states of Washington, Oregon and California) in 2006 exceeded $2.9 billion (US Fish & Wildlife Service [FWS], 2006). Over the past decade, commercial white-water rafting in Colorado alone generated approximately $130 million annually in direct and indirect revenue (Colorado River Outfitters Association, 2010). Western Resource Advocates (WRA), a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, explored...
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