Chevron Legal Case Shows Oil Shale Uses Huge Amounts of Water

Rob Harris“The cat is out of the bag on oil shale development, and it is time for other companies to follow Chevron’s lead and disclose their full water demands. Communities, state agencies, and concerned citizens in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming need to have the facts in hand as they plan for the future in our water-scarce region.” 

Rob Harris, Western Resource Advocates’ lead attorney on the settlement with Chevron

Oil Shale Development’s Water Needs Have Not Been Transparent

The oil industry and its allies in Congress have claimed for close to a decade that oil shale would use low to “net zero” quantities of water in its extraction and development in the West. But independent assessments by the US Bureau of Land Management, US Government Accounting Office and RAND Corporation show the industry using large quantities of water. The oil industry have argued for much of the last decade that those independent estimates are inaccurate, though no verifiable data was put forth by industry.

In the arid West where drought and climate change are increasingly causing concerns for agriculture, communities and the environment, the use of water in oil and gas development is a critical issue. Oil shale processing is not occurring in the United States at this time – and approving new development of oil shale requires accurate information on water use. A number of oil and gas companies have proposals to develop oil shale in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

Western Resource Advocates Court Case Against Chevron Shows How Huge Oil Shale Water Needs Really Are

When pressed in a court filing by Western Resource Advocates, Chevron USA confirmed what oil companies have for years denied – oil shale development in the Western United States would use enormous quantities of water, thereby straining existing water resources. In a filing with a Colorado water court, Chevron argued that to meet its goal of developing 500,000 barrels of oil per day from oil shale, the company would require up to 120,000 acre-feet of water (39,102,120,000 gallons) per year, enough water to serve more than 1 million people per year.

Thanks to Western Resource Advocates, the affirmed legal settlement is the first time the oil industry has been accountable for providing verifiable data and the new data refutes industry past claims of oil shale development’s low or “net zero” water use.

Chevron’s admission sheds new light on oil shale’s water demands, and should prove critical as water districts, state planners and others throughout Colorado, Utah and Wyoming develop plans to meet future demand. Western Resource Advocates will call for full disclosure by other companies of their oil shale water demands.

Copies of Chevron’s documents:

Project Staff

Robert Harris

Senior Staff Attorney

Bart Miller

Bart Miller

Healthy Rivers Program Director