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Colorado, Other Western Communities Boiling Over Water Quality

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The Colorado River (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

The Colorado River (credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

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DENVER (AP) – Communities across the West are demanding limits on oil shale drilling along the Colorado River over concerns the thirst for oil could lead to polluted water supplies for millions of people.

The worries have prompted proposals to limit acreage available for leasing.

Officials in Nevada and Arizona sent letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing concerns about the need to protect Colorado River water quality and quantity. Others back a Bureau of Land Management proposal to sharply reduce acreage available for possible leasing in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the concerns are overblown.

“They’re not going to see any change in their water quality – none,” said Treese, whose group is in western Colorado.

The BLM said some of the potential impacts will be analyzed as part of the individual leasing authorization process.

Regulators believe the water supply can be protected and any pollution will be diluted by the time it reaches Las Vegas, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Monday.

Yet those reassurances have not placated elected officials.

“We believe that a comprehensive study of the cumulative impacts of oil shale development to the Colorado River basin should be conducted before the BLM considers commercial leasing of public lands,” said a letter signed by Nevada state lawmakers Peggy Pierce and Tick Segerblom; Arizona House Minority Whip Anna Tovar, and Arizona Corporate Commission member Paul Newman. The commission oversees utility and transportation matters.

The writers cited a Government Accountability Office estimate that industrial-scale oil shale development could require water equivalent to the amount used by 750,000 households.

Arizona’s House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat, sent a similar letter, as did Democratic Nevada lawmaker Maggie Carlton, Democratic Nevada state Sen. Mark Manendo, and Las Vegas City Council member Bob Coffin.

In addition, Clark County commissioners in southern Nevada also indicated they were trying to adopt a resolution that wouldn’t interfere with sensitive, ongoing interstate negotiations over Colorado River water.

Even residents on the other side of the Continental Divide who rely on Colorado River water have raised concerns about oil shale’s potential impacts on water quality and future availability.

The Front Range Water Council sent a letter to the BLM regarding its draft environmental impact statement analyzing a range of alternatives for how much land should be made available for possible leasing.

The council represents utilities for Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Aurora and other communities that need the water for about 80 percent of the state population.

Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said some companies are trying to find ways to pump oil without coming in contact with groundwater.

Shell is testing a steam process that it says shows promise, cleaning groundwater before it gets to consumers.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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