A group of Front Range water providers is worried that the Bureau of Land Management's oversight of potential water use by oil shale companies doesn't go far enough. The Front Range Water Council is made up of representatives from Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora and other cities in the region.


A group of Front Range water providers is worried that the Bureau of Land Management's oversight of potential water use by oil shale companies doesn't go far enough. The Front Range Water Council is made up of representatives from Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora and other cities in the region.

Jim Lochhead, president of the group and CEO of Denver Water, says half of the Denver water supply comes from the Colorado River, and he's worried that oil shale production could overtax the river's resources.

"We're concerned that the BLM and the United States not go too far too fast in their leasing program, before really understanding and quantifying these impacts on the river."

Oil shale extraction is a water-intensive process that attempts to force the oil from rock. The BLM is proposing a wait-and-see approach because it isn't sure what the water demands by oil and gas companies will be. The Front Range Water Council voiced its concerns about that approach in a recent letter to the BLM on the proposed land use plan for oil shale and tar sands leases in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

A 2005 report by the RAND Corporation found that if the U.S. produced 3 million barrels of oil from shale a day, the country would see $20 billion annually in direct economic benefits and a drop in oil prices by as much as 5 percent.

However, Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, wonders if the cost is too high.

"This is a really important issue for the whole state, whether you're an environmentalist or whether you're a Front Range water developer."

Neubecker says the "wait-and-see" approach isn't good enough.

"It's all of our problem when it comes to water. We need to know a lot more about what water is available and where all the different needs are before we start saying, 'OK, we can lease 2 million acres for oil shale development. Let's go.'"

According to a report from Western Resource Advocates, oil and gas companies hold some rights to Colorado River water which predate the rights held by cities for drinking water. The BLM is expected to have a new plan in place by the end of the year.

The BLM site is ostseis.anl.gov, the WRA report is at www.westernresourcesadvocates.org and the RAND report is at www.rand.org.