There is ample water available in Colorado for oil shale development. Under the terms of the Colorado River Compact, Colorado is entitled to 3.86 million acre feet per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado averages 2.27 million acre feet of annual consumptive use from the Colorado River. This would leave around 1.6 million acre feet available for energy development and other uses.
The vast majority of Colorado’s share of Compact water (92%) is used for agriculture (62%) and for trans-mountain diversions to municipalities east of the continental divide (30%). Fully half of the water consumed by cities is for lawns and landscaping. An extensive study by the Bureau of Reclamation showed that xeriscaping could reliably reduce water demand by a third.
If such methods were widely instituted they could liberate 110,000 acre feet of water per year. Crop switching on irrigated acreage in Western Colorado, from alfalfa to wheat or soybeans could free up another 380,000 acre feet per year.
Geothermic fuel cells use much less water than alternative shale oil production processes. A comprehensive recent study of water needs by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable showed a range of possible water consumption of between 2.2 and 4.6 barrels of water per barrel of shale oil. Between .8 and 1.6 barrels of this amount is for spent shale disposal, which is not needed for our true in situ process. Another .17 to .26 barrels are needed for electrical generation, which we do not need since we produce our own electricity. Other items in the water use bill are not fully applicable, for example: .11 to .46 barrels for population. This certainly should not apply to any of the population that already lives in Colorado, since these people already consume water and do not require additional supplies. Other water intensive activities, like shale oil upgrading, .6 to 1.6 barrels, will probably occur in other states and will draw on other water resources. Taken altogether these reductions in Colorado water usage will result in consumption of between 1 to 2 barrels of water per barrel of oil produced by geothermic fuel cells.
A huge oil shale production industry based on geothermic fuel cells might produce a million barrels of oil per day. At 2 barrels per barrel this would consume less than 100,000 acre feet of water per year.
In addition to stream flows there is also a vast reserve of ground water in the Piceance Creek Basin underlying the oil shale formation. This aquifer may contain more than 20 million acre feet, enough water to sustain a giant oil shale industry for 200 years.