Colorado River Basin Oil Mine Plans Evaporate After Water Rights Lost

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An oil company's plans to mine in the Uinta Basin in Utah have dried up after losing access to the water it would need to unearth the petroleum.

The company, Enefit, has also relinquished a federal lease for research and development on the land.

Enefit had planned to produce 50,000 barrels of oil daily for the next 30 years, almost double the Uinta Basin's current production.

However, the company's plans hinged on the ability to access 10,000 acre-feet, or 3.2 billion gallons, of water from the White River, a tributary of the Green River that flows into the Colorado River.

Enefit purchased a water right from a public utility called Deseret Generation and Transmission Cooperative in 2011.

However, the company quickly ran afoul of state water laws, which require rights holders to "use it or lose it" within a certain time period.

In Enefit's case, its right was due to be returned to the state in 2015.

The only exception to the 50-year rule is for public utilities.

Since Deseret Generation could apply for a 10-year extension, Enefit transferred the right back to Deseret, which then applied for an extension.

Once received, Deseret leased the water to Enefit again.

However, the Grand Canyon Trust claimed the move was illegal and raised the issue.

The state Division of Water Rights approved the transfer and extension.

The trust requested an administrative hearing.

The hearing eventually led to a settlement under which Deseret agreed not to use the water for anything other than generating electricity.

The agreement explicitly "prohibits Deseret Power and all other entities or persons from using the water right for fossil fuel mining, extraction, processing, or development."

Enefit has also relinquished a 160-acre federal lease for research and development on the land.

Yes, that is 160 acres.

The company sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on public lands, noting that it does not plan to convert the research lease into a commercial lease.

The environmental and public health consequences of Enefit's proposed mine would have been staggering.

The carbon emissions from burning all that oil is equivalent to the emissions of 63 coal plants, and the water required would serve nearly 60,000 homes for a year.

The Grand Canyon Trust has praised the decision to halt Enefit's plans, saying it is a "win for the environment" and "a win for public health."