Rulison blast site neighbors prepare for COGCC hearing |

Rulison blast site neighbors prepare for COGCC hearing

Phillip YatesPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BATTLEMENT MESA Some residents near the Project Rulison blast site are preparing for a future Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing.The hearing is about 16 potential permits two energy companies are seeking, which would allow them to drill within 3 miles of the nuclear detonation site.The lawyer representing three couples who are objecting to the permits is hoping that the new makeup of the COGCC will look favorably on the couples arguments to block the permits. A bill passed by the state legislature last year revamped the COGCC, bumping the number of commissioners who will rule on the matter from five to nine. This commission is a new commission and we anticipate getting a fair shake, said Luke Danielson, a Gunnison attorney representing the couples.A hearing on the matter, however, has not yet been scheduled.Last week, the Western Colorado Congress, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and the three couples filed a legal objection with the COGCC to prevent the permits from being issued within a 3-mile area of the Project Rulison nuclear site, where the Atomic Energy Commission, in cooperation with Austral Oil, detonated a 43-kiloton nuclear device 8,426 feet below the surface on Sept. 10, 1969. Noble Energy Inc. has applied for 13 of the contested drilling permits, while EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) is seeking the other three. Stephen Flaherty, a spokesman for Noble Energy, said the company doesnt know when the COGCC will look at the matter, but that the company believes that a current sampling and monitoring plan for the area adequately protects the publics health, safety and welfare. Weve been working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the COGCC on the plan, Flaherty said. We absolutely can protect the public safety operating in this area. We will comply with what the experts at the CHDPE, the COGCC request and we have.The Project Rulison experiment was an attempt to free up commercially marketable quantities of natural gas, but the gas it produced proved to be too contaminated with radioactivity. The DOE prohibits drilling lower than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area around the site, and the COGCC requires a hearing for any gas wells proposed to be drilled within a half-mile of the site. The residents aligned against drilling permits in the area argue that the use of fracturing technologies, which are designed to stimulate greater production of natural gas from the subsurface formations, increases the risk that radioactive contaminants from the Rulison blast site may reach the surface.Wes Kent, who lives a few football fields from the blast site, is among the people involved in the legal objection filed last week that sought to have the 16 permits to drill within a 3-mile area of the blast site withdrawn. Kent said he was earlier under the impression that there would be no drilling within a 3-mile area of the blast site. But the first indication of drilling in the area for Kent came when surveyors showed up about two years ago, he said. We didnt have any prior notice or a chance to weigh in on any permitting process prior them starting the drilling, Kent said. That cut deep.Kent said residents and the state needs more time for the experts to determine what the safe distance is for drilling near the blast site and nail that down before (the COGCC) permit any more wells up there. If a hearing doesnt swing the way of the residents who filed the legal action to block the permits, Kent said he may consider filing a lawsuit to block it.However, Danielson said it was too early to anticipate whether a lawsuit might be filed should the commissioners decide to uphold the permits. Right now I am focused on winning this proceeding at the commission level, Danielson said.Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117pyates@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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