Proposal to drill near nuclear blast site concerns landowners
Two landowners urged the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Monday to deny a proposal to drill for natural gas near a nuclear blast site.Wesley Kent, who lives close to the Project Rulison blast, said he’d take the commission to court if drilling unleashes radiation left over from the blast.”If something happens you’ll all be (dragged) into court,” he said to the commission, which met in Glenwood Springs Monday.Project Rulison, a joint operation of the Atomic Energy Commission, Austral Oil and CER Geonuclear Corp., was an attempt to free gas trapped in the tight sandstone of the Mesaverde formation. On Sept. 10, 1969, at a site on the north slope of Battlement Mesa about 12 miles southeast of Parachute, a 40-kiloton nuclear explosive was detonated 8,476 feet below ground surface.Presco Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas, proposes to drill within a half-mile radius around the blast site. The area was established by the COGCC in 2004. While the commission does not prohibit drilling within that area, it does require companies to consult with it before it will issue a permit to drill.After the blast, the Department of Energy set aside 40 acres around ground zero where drilling is prohibited.Presco withdrew its drilling application earlier this month, which was to be heard by the COGCC in its public meeting Monday. Presco has said it will reapply for a drilling permit in about six month’s time.The company is currently gathering information from experts that it will present to the Garfield County Commissioners and the COGCC. It will show that virtually all of the radioactivity from the blast was dissipated when gas was flared from the well after the blast over a 10-month period, the company has said.”Does the country need the gas that bad that you would allow them to drill there?” Kent asked the oil and gas commissioners.Also worried about the possible fallout from gas drilling was Cary Weldon, who owns the property where the blast took place. Surrounded by a post and rail wooden fence, the site is now marked by a small bronze plaque.Weldon bought his property in 1976. “We had assurances from the Department of Energy that the site was safe,” he said. The DOE has tested his water and air quality regularly since then, and none of the samples has showed abnormal levels of radioactivity.But he still worries.The three elements of concern – tritium, krypton 85 and carbon 14, remnants of the nuclear blast – are all highly mobile in gas and water, he said.In a DOE report on the site closure, the DOE said “no proven and cost-effective technology exists to remove radiation” below the ground, Weldon said.The DOE has also said it will conduct a computer modeling study of the conditions in the blast cavity below ground to determine just how much radiation still exists. That report is due out in 2011, Weldon said.”I believe it would be irresponsible to issue a permit for drilling prior to the completion of that report,” he said.He also urged the commission to impose a half-mile moratorium area around ground zero.Commission president Peter Mueller said the COGCC shares his concern.”It has to be safe. There’s no compromise there. There will be an extensive review (of Presco’s application) and public process,” he said.
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The Glenwood Springs Community Center will be closed through at least Saturday after an employee displayed symptoms of COVID-19, a city news release states.