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Garfield County waiting for feds to respond to Rulison letter

John Colson
jcolson@postindependent.com
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado ” Garfield County has yet to get an answer from Washington, D.C., about demands for a better understanding of where it’s safe to drill around the Rulison nuclear blast site.

And the county commissioners are not happy about the lack of response.

“It is a hot potato,” declared an obviously irate Commissioner John Martin. “They don’t want to discuss it.”



But a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who represents Garfield County and most of the Western Slope, said Wednesday that the letter had only arrived “about 10 days” ago due to security concerns.

Eric Wortman of Salazar’s office explained that in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare, in which anthrax spores were sent through the mail, “our mail takes forever to arrive” because it goes through a variety of security checks, radiation treatment and other testing.



“It’s not like four or five days, it’s, like, three weeks,” he said.

The commissioners sent a letter in early April, addressed to a list of state and federal politicians, asking for a U.S. Department of Energy investigation into the question of where it is safe and where it is unsafe to conduct mineral explorations in the region of the blast.

The letter also suggested the DOE find a way to compensate property owners denied access to their property or their mineral rights as a result of the government’s actions.

The site 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 tend to agree that the bomb created a cavity in the rock that will be radioactive for tens to thousands of years. The site sparks concern that hydraulic fracturing nearby could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium. The DOE controls 40 acres, including the blast site, and forbids drilling there below 6,000 feet.

There is currently “no credible scientific basis” to determine how far from the site it’s safe to conduct drilling or frac’ing, according to the commissioners’ letter to the DOE.

The county’s oil and gas liaison officer, Judy Jordan, told the commissioners that she had heard from the offices of Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Denver), who serves on the House Energy Committee, and from the office of Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), but that there had been no indication as to what actions might be taken.

Wortman, who said the matter has been discussed by Rep. Salazar and others in his office, predicted that a response would be forthcoming soon.

While he declined to speculate as to the nature of that response, he said of the commissioners’ letter, “It’s very interesting, the points that they raise. The letter has valid concerns, and it’s something we’re taking very seriously.”

A spokesman for DeGette’s office said she, too, is reviewing the letter and weighing potential responses.

Contact John Colson: 970-429-9143


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