Landowners, mineral owners debate drilling near blast site |

Landowners, mineral owners debate drilling near blast site

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION – State oil and gas regulators on Tuesday heard conflicting calls for barring drilling near the Project Rulison site to protect nearby residents, and allowing it for the benefit of those owning mineral rights in the area.”How close do we want to let these people drill to a known nuclear blast site before we say, ‘Stop the madness’?” Cary Weldon asked members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in a meeting in Grand Junction.Weldon lives near where the federal government exploded a nuclear device underground in 1969 outside Rulison in an experiment aimed at producing natural gas.Members of the Hayward family, whose ancestor, Claude Hayward, owned and later sold the land above where the explosion occurred, said the family never received any financial compensation in connection with that experiment. They want to develop their mineral interests on hundreds of nearby acres, and believe that it can be done safely.”We want to rely on the science. We don’t want to reply on speculation. We want to make sure our friends and neighbors are adequately safeguarded,” said Craig Hayward, Claude’s grandson.The residents spoke as part of an educational meeting the COGCC held in anticipation of making future decisions about how close to the blast site to allow drilling, and under what conditions.Also speaking were representatives of Noble Energy, Williams Production and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), all of which have been actively drilling within three miles of the blast site.”We are certain that we can operate in this area safely,” said Michael Wozniak, speaking on behalf of Noble Energy.”… We fully intend first of all to protect our workers and the people who are right there on site.” He said the COGCC can draw on a 30-year history of testing connected with Project Rulison, and urged the COGCC to have more faith in government and industry scientists than some members of the public do.”Most of the people doing these reports are really trying to be as accurate as possible,” he said.But Luke Danielson, an attorney for some residents living near the blast site, said they have good reason to be concerned about scientific claims.”They were told by Presco … ‘We have all the answers, we can’t possibly make a mistake,'” Danielson said.Presco had drilled within three miles of the blast site, and had proposed drilling within a half mile before withdrawing that proposal. It later was cited by the state for violations such as allowing runoff from drilling pits and having drums and sacks of chemicals floating in pits.”If they can’t drill a conventional well without violations, they certainly can’t drill around a nuclear blast site,” said Wesley Kent, who has a home near the blast site. “They don’t have the expertise, apparently.”Critics of drilling near the site questioned the adequacy of federal efforts to monitor water wells for contamination, and said no federal or state agency has stepped forward to take primary responsibility for protecting the public from Project Rulison.Robert Moran, a hydrogeologist, said there is a real risk to the public if drilling occurs near the nuclear blast site.”It is not simply an irrational fear of the landowners,” he said.But others spoke of the need to drill in the area to help meet the nation’s energy demands, and of concerns that drilling restrictions are effectively takings of mineral rights.”We … want safe development, and we feel that is possible, so we do wish to pursue our mineral interests and hope that our right to do so is considered,” said Cristy Hayward Koeneke, Craig Hayward’s sister.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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