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GarCo against Presco plans

Garfield County has taken formal issue with Presco’s plan to drill near the site of the Project Rulison underground nuclear explosion. Presco wants to drill within a half-mile buffer zone around the site.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission ruled in February 2004 that Presco could not drill within the buffer zone without approval from the U.S. Department of Energy because of concerns about potential residual radioactive contamination.Presco filed a request with the COGCC to increase drilling density to 40 acres on the surface and 10 acres underground, which would put it within the 500-acre buffer zone.Garfield County notified the COGCC on Tuesday that it would file a motion to intervene to block the increased density, said county attorney Don DeFord.Although the county routinely receives copies of such density applications from the COGCC, this one caught its attention because of the proximity of the Project Rulison site, DeFord said.In 1969, the federal government set off a proton bomb underground to see whether the explosion could free natural gas from sandstone formations. The test was considered a failure because of the radioactivity in the gas. Since then, federal and state governments have said nearby gas drilling shouldn’t present a danger.Presco has previously been required not to drill on 40 acres around ground zero of the Project Rulison site.DeFord said the county considers the drilling proposal to be “a health and safety issue” for the people of the county.”At this point we have to evaluate whether we’ll be passive or active participants,” DeFord said. As a passive participant, the county would ask questions of Presco in a COGCC public hearing at the end of April. However, if the county decides to take an active role, it could file a full-blown court case against Presco, DeFord said.The county also plans to hire an expert, probably a geologist with knowledge about radioactive contamination, to review Presco’s plans, he said. The only true experts covering both issues are at the Department of Energy, which, as the Atomic Energy Commission, oversaw the Project Rulison blast in 1969. That expert will testify for the county at the COGCC hearing. DeFord also said he’ll ask the COGCC to hold the hearing in the county rather than at its usual location in Denver.The company filed for the increased density as a routine matter of course and noted that most companies in the county are doing the same these days, Presco spokesman Kim Bennetts said.”We did all our research, and understood that there is not any significant risk,” Bennetts said. But he also said he also understands that people living in the county are concerned.However, to not tap the gas resource within the buffer zone would put off-limits a lot gas of value to Presco and to mineral-rights owners, he said. “It would be significant loss to the owners.”Presco will also present its experts at the hearing to assure the COGCC and the public that drilling around Project Rulison is safe.”Even though we’re sure it’s safe we will still undertake procedures to test gas for radioactivity,” Bennetts said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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