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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Water Rights Related to Oil Shale Development in the Upper Colorado River Basin

Cynthia Brougher
Legislative Attorney

Concerns over fluctuating oil prices and declining petroleum production worldwide have revived interest in oil shale as a potential resource. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) identified oil shale as a strategically important domestic resource and directed the Department of the Interior to promote commercial development. Oil shale development would require significant amounts of water, however, and water supply in the Colorado River Basin, where several oil shale reserves are located, is limited. According to news reports, oil companies holding water rights in the region have not exercised those rights in decades, which has allowed other water rights holders to use the water for agricultural and municipal needs. Because of the nature of the water rights systems in the relevant states, these users might face significant limitations in their future use of water from the Colorado River Basin if the oil companies exercise their rights. This report will provide a brief overview of water rights in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, including changes that may be made to currently held water rights and the possibility for abandonment of unused water rights.

Date of Report: February 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 8
Order Number: RS22986
Price: $29.95

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