Preserving the history of Project Rulison

Kelsy Been
Garfield Public Library District
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Residents of Garfield County should be aware that a major event in America’s nuclear history unfolded right in their own backyard. Forty-two years ago, on Sept. 10, 1969, some 8,426 feet below the ground surface near Rulison, the U.S. government detonated a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb. The resulting underground blast was a major explosion, registering 5.5 on the Richter scale, three times more powerful than the Hiroshima bombing.

This detonation, known as Project Rulison, was the second experiment in the Plowshare Program, designed to develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy. Specifically, the goal of Project Rulison was to find more cost-efficient means of liberating natural gas from underground regions.

In fact, the test released 10 times the amount of natural gas as compared to traditional methods. However, the natural gas was contaminated with radioactivity, rendering it unmarketable.

After the detonation, the state of Colorado placed a buffer zone prohibiting gas drilling on the 40 acres immediately surrounding the test site; later, this buffer zone was expanded an additional three miles around the original 40 acres.

As the energy crisis develops, the salience of Project Rulison is heightened. Garfield County is second only to La Plata County in terms of gas production in Colorado.

Recently, there has been much debate over whether it is now safe to drill in the buffer zone. In December of 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved drilling within the three-mile buffer zone, although permission has not yet been given to drill within a half-mile of the blast site.

Learning about the history of the blast as well as the possible environmental impacts of drilling nearby has become a subject of growing interest in the area.

The Garfield County Libraries have collected a large number of Project Rulison documents, including many primary sources. The collection contains reports, plans, evaluations, maps, newspaper clippings and letters published between 1969 and 2007.

These items document the time leading up to the project, the detonation itself, as well as ample post-analysis and reportage.

The Rulison collection was originally housed at the Parachute Branch Library, but is currently in the process of being assessed for preservation. Library staff hope to digitize the documents to allow for greater access to the public and scholars wishing to study the documents. Those wishing to view the collection can contact Amelia Shelley or Kelsy Been for information on viewing the materials. Call 625-4270 for details.

All six branches of the Garfield County Libraries will be closed Monday, Oct. 10 for a staff training day. Normal library hours will resume at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11. You can still browse and request books, movies, and more on our website,, during the closure. Thank you for your understanding and continued support.

Join the Scrabble Club for adults in Rifle or Glenwood Springs.

If you love words, games and having fun, this club is for you! The Scrabble Club will meet from 6-8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library, and on the third Tuesday of every month at the Rifle Branch Library.

Beginners and experts alike are encouraged to join. Make new friends and learn new Scrabble strategies.

Bring your own board if you have one. Scoring materials and dictionaries will be provided. For information call 945-5958 or 625-3471.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.