Garfield County commissioner still thinks DOE not doing its job |

Garfield County commissioner still thinks DOE not doing its job

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Federal energy officials are sticking to their guns as far as using privately drilled gas wells to test for radioactivity near the Rulison nuclear blast site.

And Garfield County Commissioner John Martin still thinks the U.S. Department of Energy is forcing private firms to act as “guinea pigs” in the risky business of exposing workers to potential radiation poisoning, and refusing to compensate landowners for their inability to exploit their mineral rights for profit.

In a letter to Martin from David Geiser, acting director of the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, which oversees the Rulison site, the agency declared that its approach to further gas drilling near the blast site is the “best strategy” for protecting the public’s health and safety while still allowing “energy companies and mineral leaseholders to achieve their respective goals.”

That approach is outlined in a newly released draft management plan, known as the Rulison Path Forward, which is now available for public inspection as the agency seeks public comment on its provisions. The plan echoes feelings expressed by DOE representatives earlier this year, in a story printed on April 8 in the Post Independent.

Responding to the county’s specific request for DOE-approved monitoring wells close to the blast site, Geiser wrote that such wells would be “ineffective” because they would only reveal radiation in a narrow zone, and not the broader area that might have been contaminated when the blast occurred.

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 part of a national search for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

But the blast produced less gas than anticipated when it fractured the sandstone formations, and the gas was unusable because it was radioactive. No technology has yet been found to remove the contamination.

Scientists worry that hydraulic fracturing, an integral part of gas drilling, could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium and other substances if done too close to the blast site. 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.

Another request by Garfield County was for compensation of landowners who are prohibited from selling or otherwise exploiting their mineral rights due to fears of contamination from the government’s nuclear blast.

The DOE, however, maintains that the hazardous radiation is believed to be contained within its 40-acre plot, and that once evidence shows this to be true, there will be no prohibition against drilling even within the COGCC’s half-mile radius. Therefore, the DOE’s policies will not interfere with private landowners’ gas drilling activities or arrangements.

Commissioner Martin, reached by cell phone late on Thursday, said he had not read the DOE’s letter and could not comment on its contents, other than to reiterate his feeling that the agency is making “guinea pigs” of the workers in the oil and gas industry, and that “they need to live up to their obligations. They need to stop using modeling and take some action” to perform tests at the site.

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