Garfield County formally opposes Rulison ‘Path Forward’ |

Garfield County formally opposes Rulison ‘Path Forward’

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Officials in Garfield County are determined to win compensation of some sort for landowners and holders of mineral rights in the area surrounding the Rulison nuclear test site in the western part of the county.

And, following a vote on Monday, the Board of County Commissioners is formally rejecting a plan the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has named the “Path Forward” for the site.

It was the predecessor of the DOE, called the Atomic Energy Commission, that in 1969 set off an atomic bomb some 8,400 feet below the surface in Rulison in an effort to free up gas fields trapped in the deep rock formations. Rulison is roughly five miles west of Rifle along Interstate 70.

The bomb, according to some estimates, was three times the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II, and the blast was part of a program intended to find peaceful uses for nuclear energy.

The gas at the site, however, was too radioactive to be useful, and the site has been capped and largely out of the public eye until recently. In 2003, the DOE established the Office of Legacy Management “to provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the legacy of the Cold War,” according to the DOE website.

At the same time, improved technology and rising prices for natural gas have sparked a boom in Garfield County and other parts of the country. Recently, drilling rigs have moved ever closer to a federally-controlled, half-mile patch of land directly above the blast zone where drilling has not been permitted.

The DOE’s Path Forward outlines a “staged approach” that, among other things, allows rigs to drill incrementally closer to that plot of land. The plan calls for testing of any gas recovered, to see if it is radioactive.

Garfield County has publicly questioned the wisdom of that plan, accusing government scientists of trying to use industry workers as guinea pigs, and calling for tests by the DOE itself to determine how far from the core of the blast area the radioactivity can be detected.

But a key part of Garfield County’s objection to the Path Forward has been the DOE’s treatment of those who own land at the site, or mineral rights near the site.

Judy Jordan, the county’s oil and gas liaison, told the commissioners on Monday that she is “still comfortable with that half-mile radius [as] the relatively safe zone” beyond which drilling can be permitted.

Jordan also recommended that the board maintain its insistence that the affected property owners within the zone – whether involving land or minerals – must be compensated for the fact that they cannot realize any potential profits from their ownership because of government restrictions.

Jordan said after the commissioners’ meeting that she and representatives of the DOE have talked about the compensation idea, but nothing more.

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