Western Slope Dems ask DOE to look into Rulison site | PostIndependent.com

Western Slope Dems ask DOE to look into Rulison site

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado – Garfield County’s congressional representatives have asked the U.S. Department of Energy to look carefully at plans for sinking drills into the ground around the Rulison nuclear blast site, to be sure that environmental and personal safety is not threatened.

A letter sent by U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Rep. John Salazar – all Democrats representing the Western Slope of Colorado – asks that the DOE keep the congressmen informed as it moves to study the possible hazards of drilling within a half-mile of the blast site.

The letter, addressed to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, was sent out in response to an earlier letter, sent by the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, to the Colorado congressional delegation and the DOE.

In that letter, the commissioners asked for a study of exactly where it might be safe to drill near the blast site.

The site, located approximately 30 miles west of Glenwood Springs, has been radioactive since 1969, when the DOE detonated a 43-kiloton atomic device deep underground in an effort to get at natural gas reserves. The bomb was exploded at a depth of 8,426 feet, and was viewed as a potential peaceful use of nuclear energy at the time.

But the blast produced less gas than anticipated when it fractured the sandstone formations, and the gas was unusable because it was radioactive, and no technology has been found to remove the contamination.

Scientists tend to agree that the bomb created a cavity in the rock that will be radioactive for tens of thousands of years. The site sparks concern that hydraulic fracturing nearby could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium. The DOE controls 40 acres, including the blast site, and forbids drilling there below 6,000 feet, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission prohibits drilling within one-half mile of the site.

But recently, as noted in the June 3 letter from the delegation, “drilling is moving closer to the blast zone” as gas companies seek new gas fields.

“As a result, there have been questions raised about the potential existence of radioactive materials within the 1/2-mile zone … and if drilling or other exploratory subsurface activity can be done safely within that zone,” the letter continues.

While declaring a desire to permit gas exploration to continue, the letter also notes a need to ensure that the activities “do not result in threats to the environment or public health and safety.”

The letter seeks a description from the DOE as to “what viable technologies currently exist … that are capable of yielding the kind of empirical data Garfield County commissioners are requesting.

“We support the responsible production of domestic energy resources,” the congressional letter concludes, “but we also strongly believe in the protection of public health and safety and the environment. Any plan for development within the 1/2-mile zone must be based on the best science and most current and accurate information regarding any potential risks.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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