Tempers flare at Energy Advisory Board meeting
A Presco geologist’s assurances that drilling close to the Project Rulison site would not release radioactivity drew an irate reaction from a resident of Battlement Mesa Thursday night. Brian Richter, a consulting geologist with Presco, told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board all the radioactive gas released by the detonation of a nuclear explosion in 1969 was vented and residual material at the base of the well is not dangerous.Presco plans to drill for natural gas near the site of Project Rulison. It cancelled an appearance before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last month to request a drilling permit in the blast area. The company said it wanted to present information about drilling close to the well where the blast was detonated to assure people that there was no possibility of releasing radioactive natural gas.The nuclear explosion was an experiment of the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy, to fracture natural gas out of tight sandstone formations. All the gas produced by the blast was vented over an 18 month period ending in 1971, Richter said.But Wesley Kent, who owns land close to the site, questioned Richter’s premise.”He’s paid by Presco; he works for Presco. They’re for profit,” Kent said.Richter took issue with Kent’s statement. “That threatens my integrity,” he said. His working for Presco “would not influence my opinion on this.”Richter said the Atomic Energy Commission was careful about where it chose to detonate the explosion. The site selected for the blast was chosen because of its remote location at the time and the fact that no water table existed in at the depth of the blast, at approximately 8,500 feet below the surface.The 43-kiloton nuclear explosive was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to fracture a 500-foot radius around the detonation point. After the gas was vented, the contractor drilled into the cavity created by the explosion.”There was no radioactivity detected in the well drilled into (the cavity),” Richter said. Nor was radioactive material found in drilling mud or rock cuttings from that well.Radioactive material in the form of tritium, krypton 85 and carbon 14 was found in the cavity itself, but they have a relatively short time span in which they decay. Presently, 87 percent of the tritium present in the cavity in 1971 has decayed, Richter said.Richter also pointed out that DOE established a no-drill zone within 40 acres and below 6,500 feet around the blast area. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission also established a half-mile area around the well in which any application for a drilling permit must go to a public hearing.Over the year,s some gas has built up again in the blast cavity.”I am certain that is not the gas that was energized by the explosion,” he said.Kent was not convinced. “DOE hasn’t closed the site and you guys have taken advantage of that,” he said. “What worries me is Presco’s track record. You’re not good neighbors.”
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