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Presco prepares to drill near Project Rulison site

Promises to be a good neighbor

by Christine Dell’Amore



Post Independent Staff



Presco Inc. may begin drilling for natural gas near the Project Rulison site as soon as September.

Representatives from the Texas-based company told concerned residents Thursday they will submit plans to develop up to 15 wells near the site of the 1969 nuclear test eight miles southwest of Rifle.

“We have a development project based on what we think is reasonable logic,” said Kim R.W. Bennetts, vice president of exploration and production for the company. “We’re trying to approach this in a way that is least damaging to the area.”

More than 150 local residents turned out at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s forum to listen and comment about the proposed drilling. A natural gas seep in April in West Divide Creek, six miles south of Silt, was also discussed. Representatives from both the responsible company, EnCana, and COGCC were present to answer questions.

For failing to adequately cement the natural gas well that leaked, EnCana will be fined – “potentially the largest we’ve ever done,” said Brian Macke, deputy director for COGCC. Although the activity of the gas seep has fallen 90 percent since April 1, detectable amounts of the chemical benzene – a component of gas – have been found in shallow groundwater near the area, said Robert Chesson, environmental protection specialist for COGCC.

“If they can’t get the simple drilling of natural gas without causing environmental problems, why do they believe they should be attempting to drill for natural gas around a nuclear site?” said W. Michael Smith, a Silt resident.

Presco will not drill within a half-mile radius of the well where the nuclear detonation occurred, 8,426 feet underground, Bennetts said.

Presco also has agreed to move wells to twice as far from the site as originally planned, in response to worries about the proximity to it, said David R. Wheeler, executive vice president of Presco.

“We’re trying to be responsible,” Wheeler said. “We want to do things the right way.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Restoration Division controls eight other underground nuclear sites in the nation, including Project Rio Blanco, which is also in northwest Colorado and is the only other such site in Colorado. Both experiments were part of the government’s Operation Plowshare, which had the goal of using nuclear devices for peaceful applications, such as releasing underground natural gas deposits.

On Sept. 10, 1969, the government set off a proton bomb to free natural gas in the sandstone formations of the Rulison site. The area was deemed radioactive and abandoned following the experiment.

Since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has annually tested water samples for radioactivity, and only “background levels” of radioactive materials have been detected, according to Peter Sanders of the Environmental Restoration Division.

“If the proposed well is installed, radioactivity from Rulison will not reach the well during the 30 years of gas production,” Sanders said.

The natural gas from the wells also will be periodically tested for radioactivity per Department of Energy requirements, Bennetts added.

But many residents said they felt far from secure about the potential unknowns of drilling near the nuclear site.

“I think it’s preposterous,” Smith said. “It’s a subjective thing when dealing with 8,000 feet underground. We still don’t know what might happen.”

“The bottom line is we’re talking about radiation. We just don’t know the ramifications of this action, and I urge you please not to do this,” said Oni Butterfly, a Silt resident, eliciting thunderous applause from the audience.

Gaining the community’s acceptance of the project is difficult, Wheeler acknowledged, but he insisted that Presco wants to be a good neighbor to the local people.

“We’ll have to prove ourselves each step of the way,” he said.

Contact Christine Dell’Amore: 945-8515, ext. 535

cdellamore@postindependent.com

At a glance

WHAT: Presco, Inc. plans to drill for natural gas

WHERE: Near the Project Rulison nuclear experiment site, eight miles southwest of Rifle

WHEN: Plans will be submitted for possible drilling by September

INFORMATION: Contact Brian Macke, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission deputy director, at (303) 894-2100, ext. 122


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