Here’s a guest column written by Colorado River Basin Roundtable member, Greg Trainor, running in the Grand Junction Free Press that looks at the question. From the article:
In Northwest Colorado, where energy development is a major industry and we hear a constant buzz about oil shale (will it or won’t it take off?), the Yampa-White and Colorado Basin Roundtables determined that water demands from the energy industry must be estimated and a plan developed for where this water might come from. The roundtables commissioned an extensive study to find the answers.
The study showed that water use for oil shale has the potential to dwarf all other energy sector demands for water — but that these needs can probably be met with water from the White River Basin through existing and new reservoir projects.
The technology of a future oil shale industry is uncertain, so future water demands are also uncertain. Past industry efforts and current experimental development employ an array of above-ground and in situ (in place) technologies to extract oil from rock, and projected water use varies among these technologies. The study developed high, medium and low oil production and water use scenarios to develop a range of plausible water use estimates.
The study’s high water use estimate uses data from Dutch Shell’s in situ conversion process, which requires electrical heating and cooling. Water needs include water related to supplying electricity as well as directly in the extraction process. At a high production scenario of 1.5 million barrels/day of oil production, this scenario yields an overall estimate of 110,000 acre-feet of water use per year.
This final “high” estimate is significantly lower than the one generated in the first phase of the study. The earlier estimates assumed all energy needs for extracting oil from shale would be met by coal-fired power plants, while Phase II more realistically assumed that the industry would use gas-powered plants, which use much less water.
The study identified three water supply projects in the White River Basin that could potentially meet an annual demand of 110,000 acre feet/year. These three projects are not the only water supply option available, but do demonstrate that the water needs can be supplied from the White River, via development of junior decrees, with reasonable development costs.
More oil shale coverage here and here.