Presco wants to drill near nuclear test site
A simple bronze plaque marks the spot where Project Rulison took place in 1969. The site is surrounded by a wooden post and rail fence and backs up to a hillside of oakbrush with the towering sandstone bluffs of Battlement Mesa in the background.The plaque is both historical and cautionary. It reads: “Site of the second nuclear gas stimulation experiment in the United States. One 43-kiloton nuclear explosive was detonated in this well 8,426 feet below the surface on September 10, 1969.”The plaque also has a word of caution. “No excavation, drilling, and/or removal of subsurface materials below a depth of 6,000 feet.”Since the site was closed – the well capped and the surface soil and associated equipment removed – the Department of Energy placed a restriction on the site. Drilling below 6,000 feet underground and within a 40-acre plot around the cavity produced when the nuclear device exploded is prohibited.In 2004, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission also established a requirement that any company interested in drilling for natural gas in a one-half mile area around the well site consult with the commission.Also in 2004, Presco Inc., an oil and gas production company from The Woodlands, Texas, sought permission from the COGCC to increase its well spacing in the area which would have put wells within the half-mile buffer zone.Presco has drilled six wells close to the boundary of the buffer zone. It plans to drill several hundred wells on the 8,000 acres it leases in the area over the next few years, said Kim Bennetts, vice president of exploration and production.Bennetts said the company is confident drilling within one-half mile of the Project Rulison test site presents no danger of leaking radiation.”They set the (nuclear) device and drilled into the cavity (created by the explosion) and flared all the gas,” he said. “The worst possible thing that could be done was done and no one was harmed.”The Garfield County Commissioners took formal issue with Presco’s plan and filed a formal motion to intervene to block the increased well density.Although the COGCC had set a hearing on the matter for March 20 in Glenwood Springs, Presco recently withdrew its application. The company will refile the application in about six month’s time, Bennetts said.”We decided we were pushing it to go to the March hearing,” he said.Presco wants to share the findings of its team of experts, who will testify at the hearing, with Garfield County and the COGCC before the hearing takes place.”We don’t want there to be any surprises,” he said.Bennetts said their expert testimony will show that “virtually all of the radioactivity was produced at the time” the gas from the test well was flared or burned.”We don’t believe there is (danger) there,” Bennetts said. “We don’t want to operate where it’s not safe.”In a 2005 DOE report, “Rulison Site Environmental Management End State Vision Final,” the agency said it intends to conduct a study of the subsurface around the explosion cavity “to determine if the subsurface restriction zone is sufficiently protective in the event gas production wells are drilled adjacent to the site.”Of concern to the agency are below-ground remnants of the nuclear explosion, products of atomic fission such as plutonium, uranium, tritium and krypton. The DOE also said the main pathway such contaminants would take would be those followed by natural gas. However, it said most of the contaminants are contained within the test cavity.Presco geologist Brian Richter believes there is no danger outside the cavity and if radioactive elements are present in the cavity they are at a level that would present no danger to humans.”We’re looking forward to the hearing. It will bring a ton of comfort” to people, Richter said.
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.