Study: Risk at Rulison site low |

Study: Risk at Rulison site low

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A new federal study concludes that there is essentially no chance of radioactive contamination occurring at the most vulnerable location to drill for natural gas near the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site.The long-awaited study found there was a 95 percent chance of no contamination by a key radioactive isotope at a hypothetical well producing gas just outside the current drilling exclusion area at the site.The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management released the study’s results Wednesday.Project Rulison involved the underground detonation of a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb 8,426 feet underground on Sept. 10, 1969, outside of Rulison and Battlement Mesa. The experiment was an attempt to free up commercially marketable quantities of natural gas, but the gas it produced proved to be too contaminated.Under the new study, the DOE used conceptual flow and transport models to simulate tritium migration. The agency says the most likely pathway for radioactive contamination from the detonation zone to the surface would be via a producing gas well, through water vapor tainted by tritium.The model looked at tritium migration toward a hypothetical gas well in what the government considers to be the most vulnerable location outside the drilling exclusion area. The DOE allows no drilling more than 6,000 feet deep in a 40-acre area around the blast site.The hypothetical well site it studied lies 258 meters directly west of the blast site, which is the direction the tritium is thought to be most likely to flow. The distance picked by the DOE was based on setbacks separately imposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for drilling near the site.The government’s report comes as energy companies are drilling within a 3-mile radius around the blast area, which concerns some area residents. The COGCC is scheduled to hold an informational meeting on Project Rulison on Oct. 2 in Grand Junction.”We’ve made a conscious effort to try to get this done for discussion at that time,” said Tom Pauling, an environment team lead for the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management.He said the study took probably a year and a half to complete.It is intended to help policy makers decide how to best manage the area around the drilling.Currently, 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 comment and request environmental sampling.At least 27 gas-producing wells have been drilled within the 3-mile radius by companies such as Noble Energy, Williams Production and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA). Presco, whose drilling interests in the Rulison area were bought out by Noble Energy earlier this year, earlier had sought to drill a well within the half-mile radius but later withdrew the request. Noble says it has no immediate plans to seek permission to drill within a half-mile of the Project Rulison site.The study found that tritium has probably migrated horizontally no farther than 80 meters from the blast site, and it would likely remain within the DOE’s no-drilling zone unless nearby drilling occurred. Changes brought about by drilling and fracturing a well that begins producing gas would likely encourage further flow, the study says.However, the DOE says that in the unlikely event that the tritium reaches the natural gas being produced, any contamination beyond natural levels could be relative. For example, rainwater contains about eight times more than average background levels of tritium.Pauling said the study also didn’t take into account the likelihood that any contaminated gas would be diluted by other gas being produced by the same well.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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