DOE proposes new plan for Rulison site gas exploration
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Federal energy authorities are looking for comments on their ideas about gas wells in the neighborhood of the Project Rulison nuclear blast site.
Their ideas basically are that anyone drilling in the area should be careful and follow the DOE’s guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday released the Draft Rulison Path Forward report, which the agency described as “a guidance document for Colorado state regulators and other interested stakeholders in response to increased drilling” near the site.
The site, located approximately 30 miles west of Glenwood Springs, has been radioactive since 1969, when the DOE detonated a 43-kiloton atomic device deep underground in an effort to get at natural gas reserves. The bomb was exploded at a depth of 8,426 feet, and was viewed as a potential peaceful use of nuclear energy at the time.
But the blast produced less gas than anticipated when it fractured the sandstone formations, and the gas was unusable because it was radioactive, and no technology has been found to remove the contamination.
Scientists worry that hydraulic fracturing nearby could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium and other substances. The DOE controls 40 acres, including the blast site, and forbids drilling there below a depth of 6,000 feet, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission prohibits drilling within one-half mile of the site.
But recently, as noted in a June 3 letter to the DOE from Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Mike Bennet, and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, “drilling is moving closer to the blast zone” as gas companies seek new gas fields.
Generally, the DOE report urges gas companies to “adopt a conservative, staged drilling approach that allows gas reserves near the Rulison site to be recovered in a manner that minimizes the likelihood of encountering contamination.”
The report calls for the stages to begin at approximately one mile from the blast site and move inward until radioactive material is detected in significant levels, or until the wells get to within a half of a mile of the blast site.
“Once installed and completed, the wells surrounding the half-mile radius will act as a focused monitoring network,” the report states. Drilling within the half-mile radius will be permitted once data from more distant wells indicates that drilling closer in would be safe.
The DOE reports that, based on its desktop modeling simulations, there is “no evidence that indicates contamination from the Rulison site detonation has migrated or will ever migrate beyond the 40-acre institutional control boundary.” The agency’s approach is meant to protect public health and safety but still permit tests to “confirm that contamination is contained to the 40-acre plot.”
Both the Garfield County commissioners and Colorado’s elected federal officials wrote to the DOE – the commissioners in early April and the congressional delegation in early June – asking for study and clarification about where it might be safe to drill near the site, and how safe it would be.
But the Draft Rulison Path Forward report already was under way, and nearing completion, before those letters were received by the DOE, according to staffers at Garfield County and the DOE.
A response to both sets of letters, dated June 16, 2009, was sent to the congressional delegation as well as to Garfield County Commissioner John Martin.
The DOE is asking for comments on its draft plan by Aug. 14. Comments can be sent by e-mail to Rulison@lm.doe.gov, faxed to (970) 248-6040 or mailed to Rulison Path Forward Comments, U.S. Department of Energy, 2597 B3/4 Road, Grand Junction, CO, 81503
The entire draft Rulison Path Forward report is available on the web at http://www.lm.doe.gov/land/sites/co/rulison/rulison.htm, and a hard copy of the report may be requested by calling toll-free to (866) 559-8316.
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