Prescos successor promises more responsible drilling in Rulison nuclear blast area
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. The company that bought out Prescos natural gas interests near the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site is promising to operate at a higher standard than its predecessor.A representative for Houston-based Noble Energy also expressed confidence Wednesday that the company can safely drill in the area. He said the question of whether the 1969 blast could result in nuclear contamination problems has been studied for 38 years.All of these studies have never shown any contamination or any levels of concern, said Stephen Flaherty, director of government relations for Noble.Noble bought out Texas-based Prescos operations in the Rulison area in May for an undisclosed amount. Days before it took over, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff members investigated Presco for alleged violations associated with its Rulison-area drilling. It issued citations against Presco June 20.The state accused Presco of violations such as allowing runoff from drilling pits and having drums and sacks of chemicals floating in pits.The problems lent ammunition to those who have opposed drilling near the blast site because of safety concerns.Flaherty said Noble employees visited the well sites a day after assuming operation and immediately began fixing the problems.All of thats been cleaned up and thats not how Noble operates, he said.He said the only remaining remediation to be done related to the violations involves dirt work to address runoff issues. Noble is working with the COGCC to plan for and take care of that as well.Flaherty said he thinks fines related to the violations are still being determined. He said the violations are Prescos responsibility because they occurred before Noble took over, but Noble and Presco will work out who pays any fines.Flaherty said Noble is a larger company than Presco, and has a 75-year history of responsible energy development in the United States and other countries. It has about 1,200 employees, with 450 of them located in Colorado.The company already had operations in the Grand Valley, and Prescos nearby, 11,000 acres of oil and gas interests provided for a logical expansion, Flaherty said. But he said Noble also recognizes that concern exists about Project Rulison.It is a concern to us as well, he said.Project Rulison involved detonating a nuclear bomb thousands of feet underground in an attempt to free up natural gas reserves. Although the experiment was deemed unsuccessful, government officials also say nuclear contamination was contained within the area underground right around the blast.The U.S. Department of Energy prohibits drilling within the 40-acre site surrounding the Project Rulison site. Any drilling proposal within a half-mile radius of the site requires a COGCC hearing. Within a 3-mile radius, the COGCC must provide notice of any proposed drilling to the DOE, to give it the opportunity to request environmental sampling.Presco had sought approval to drill a well within the half-mile radius but later withdrew it. It continued to drill within the 3-mile radius, as have other companies such as Williams Production and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA).Flaherty said 27 producing wells have been drilled within that radius, along with one dry hole and one well that has been shut in.Noble owns 10 of those wells, has permits to drill four more within the 3-mile radius and has four permit applications pending in that same area. Other companies have permits to drill a total of 15 wells within the 3-mile radius.Flaherty said it has no immediate plans to try to drill within the half-mile radius.We probably have about three years of projects within the 3-mile radius, he said.Gunnison attorney Luke Danielson represents three families in the area of the blast, along with groups including the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. He said that it may not make sense to allow any more drilling within the 3-mile radius until the science is done to establish a little bit more confidence about what is and is not appropriate out there.He said much of the testing for radioactive contamination to date has focused on gas being brought to market, and not on domestic water supplies near the blast site. DOE is nearing completion on a long-awaited new study but Danielson fears its based on math-based computer models as opposed to actual measurements.He said he thinks Noble has been aggressive in resolving Prescos violations, but the situation also points out that companies come and go.We need a sensible management system out there that will outlast the current corps of players, he said.An informational presentation on Project Rulison is scheduled for the COGCCs Oct. 2 meeting, which will be held in Grand Junction.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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