Opinions differ on Rulison study’s worth | PostIndependent.com

Opinions differ on Rulison study’s worth

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Neither an energy company official nor a local citizens group representative are surprised by the findings of a new federal study regarding Project Rulison.But they differ on how significant those findings are.”We believe that it’s good work and we’re continuing to review it, and it is consistent with what we believed earlier,” said Steven Flaherty, director of government relations for Noble Energy, which is drilling for natural gas near the underground nuclear blast site.”At first review it appears these results are consistent with the other 38 years of data, which suggest it is safe to drill and produce this gas,” Flaherty said.Flaherty said Noble officials were still going through the U.S. Department of Energy report, which was released Wednesday and is 114 pages long.Patrick Barker, an organizer for the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said he hadn’t had a chance to see the report yet. But he took issue with how it reached its conclusions.”This is a mathematical modeling only and doesn’t actually reflect what is happening underground. The uncertainties are there and the danger that drilling poses probably outweighs what a mathematical projection would show,” he said.The study faced difficulties in determining how tritium, a radioactive isotope, might travel through underground sandstone formations. Uncertainties exist about the formations’ porosity, and the permeability level of natural fractures in them.Tom Pauling, an environment team leader with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Legacy Management, said researchers ran more than 500 different models before determining that in 95 percent of them, contamination of a nearby hypothetical gas well by the tritium would not occur.”We feel comfortable that this was the right place to start, anyway, in trying to figure out what contaminant migration there might be, or could be in the future,” he said.Barker worried that researchers didn’t see a need to look at what happened to heavier metals such as plutonium.”To make an assumption and have it go wrong would be disastrous. That’s essentially what they’re working on, is assumptions,” he said.He fears that gas drilling in the area could contaminate Battlement Creek, a regional source of drinking water. And he doesn’t believe the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has an adequate emergency plan in place if radioactive contamination occurs.Flaherty said that based on rates of natural radioactive decay, if contamination occurred in connection with Noble Energy’s drilling, it would result in radioactive exposure of less than a hundredth of that resulting from a chest X-ray.He said the new study was reviewed by national laboratories, and its technical review team “is comprised of some of the smartest people in America working on this issue. It’s a good piece of work, in our opinion.”Pauling said there are several ways in which regulators might move forward in terms of managing the area around Project Rulison. The DOE has no authority to impose additional restrictions but wants to know what the COGCC is thinking, he said. The COGCC is planning a meeting on Project Rulison Oct. 2.Pauling said the DOE wants to remain vigilant, and do future modeling and monitoring as needed at the site. For example, if gas producers someday are able to do hydraulic fracturing of their wells to farther horizontal distances underground, the DOE would want to consider what that might mean in terms of drilling near the blast site, he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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