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Life cycle consumptive water use for oil shale development and implications for water supply in the Colorado River Basin

  • Aweewan Mangmeechai
  • Paulina Jaramillo
  • W. Michael Griffin
  • H. Scott Matthews
WATER USE IN LCA

Abstract

Purpose

Oil shale is an unconventional petroleum source that can be produced domestically in the USA. Oil shale resources are primarily located in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, within the Colorado River Basin. In this paper, we analyze the life cycle consumptive water use for oil shale production and its impacts on water resources of the Colorado River Basin.

Methods

The study is focused on life cycle consumptive water use for oil shale development. Consumptive water use is defined as “water that is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment.” The analysis includes direct consumptive water requirements to extract, process, and refine shale oil, as well as indirect consumptive water use for generating the electricity associated with the extraction and processing. From the results, strategies for water supply certainty are discussed, and strategies for implementation are suggested. In addition, refining the shale oil outside of the oil shale region (removing the need for local water), using dry cooling systems for electricity generation, and building desalination plants in California (to replace water) are evaluated.

Results and discussion

Life cycle consumptive water use for oil shale is significant and could impact water availability for consumers in the lower Colorado River Basin. At a level of oil production of 2 million barrels per day, the life cycle consumptive water use would be significant: between 140 and 305 billion gallons (0.4 and 0.9 million acre-ft.) of water per year if surface mining and retorting is done, or between 150 and 340 billion gallons (0.5 and 1 million acre-ft.) of water per year if the Shell in situ process is used. Strategies could be implemented to provide water supply certainty including refining the shale oil outside of the region (removing some need for local water), using dry cooling systems for electricity generation, and building desalination plants in California (to replace water).

Conclusions

Water supply in the Colorado River Basin could be a primary constraint to the development of oil shale. At a level of oil production of 2 million barrels per day, the life cycle consumptive water use would be significant. Energy companies or governments may want to invest in water management and supply strategies that would eliminate the uncertainty associated with the water availability in the Colorado River Basin for oil shale development.

Keywords

Life cycle consumptive water use Oil shale Water footprint 

Abbreviations

Bpd

Barrels of oil per day

gals/bble

Gallons of water per barrel of oil equivalent

kWh

Kilowatts hour

lb CO2e/bble

Pounds of CO2 equivalent per barrel of oil equivalent

Notes

Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant number 0628084). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of this organization.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aweewan Mangmeechai
    • 1
  • Paulina Jaramillo
    • 3
  • W. Michael Griffin
    • 3
    • 4
  • H. Scott Matthews
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.International College of National Institute of Development AdministrationBangkokThailand
  2. 2.Civil and Environmental Engineering DepartmentCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of Engineering and Public PolicyCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.Tepper School of BusinessCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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