Mike McKibbin

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April 15, 2009
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Look at nuclear power for oil shale?

BATTLEMENT MESA, COLO. - If the oil shale industry needs new power sources in order to move into commercial production in Northwest Colorado, nuclear power plants might be an acceptable source, according to the executive director of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado.

Aaron Diaz told members of the Parachute/Grand Valley Kiwanis Club on Tuesday, April 7 that obtaining air emission permits and clearing other regulatory hurdles for new coal-fire power plants is a lengthy process.

"Now this is just me talking, but with all the advances they've made with nuclear energy, why would it be such a big deal to have a nuclear reactor, maybe more than one, on site" to produce electricity companies are now looking at to heat shale rock underground, Diaz asked.

"But try telling the folks in Rangely they might have one near them and they'll freak out," he added.

Oil shale companies such as Shell have been testing the use of electrical heaters lowered thousands of feet underground, where they heat the rocks and release kerogen, which is then pumped to the surface and refined into shale oil. If taken to a commercial scale, the amount of electricity needed would require new power plants, according to industry and government agencies.

Diaz made the comment towards the end of a presentation of a 2008 socioeconomic study by Associated Governments, a group of counties and municipalities that work together on common issues, such as growth, housing and energy. Diaz said while the study was finished before natural gas companies drastically scaled back their operations in Northwest Colorado this year, its findings will still apply, if a few years later.

The study identified a regional population of some 200,000 people, with gas drilling to migrate from Garfield to Rio Blanco County, which has already seen a 35 percent jump in traffic but only a one percent increase in population. Diaz said nearly all of that was due to the energy industry, which concentrates its activity in Rio Blanco County on County Road 5, known as the Piceance Creek Road, just north of the Garfield-Rio Blanco County line off Colorado Highway 13.

Diaz also explained communities impacted by energy development have had to wait as long as eight years to receive state severance tax funds that were designed to help deal with things like roads and schools.

And the new state oil and gas regulations that go into affect next month come at a time when neighboring states like Utah and New Mexico "want drilling," Diaz added.

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 15, 2009 05:04PM Published Apr 15, 2009 05:04PM Copyright 2009 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.