Guest opinion: Natural gas blasts — ‘boy, were we naive’
February 9, 2016
Congratulations to Will Grandbois for his good article on Project Rulison — the nuclear detonation that was intended to release natural gas from the strata that now produces gas by conventional means throughout the Piceance Basin.
My family and I were living in Grand Valley (now Parachute) in 1969. We were told to go outside during the nuclear detonation. The blast was delayed several times because the operator said the wind was not right. We wondered at the time whether we should be concerned that the blast might surface or otherwise cause airborne radioactive emissions.
When the bomb was finally detonated, the house shook like there had been a small earthquake. A few chimneys fell and there was other minor damage. A viewing stand was set up on the north side of the Colorado River for dignitaries. Again, we were hoping they would not see a mushroom cloud, and of course they didn't because the bomb was thousands of feet underground.
At the time, we wondered how the irradiated natural gas could be used even if the experiment was successful. As I remember, the proponents said it would be pipelined for use by manufacturing facilities and not in our homes. Boy, were we naive.
Project Rio Blanco in the Piceance Basin became the third in the series of failed nuclear gas stimulation experiments. There is little ongoing controversy about this site, as compared with the Rulison site, because the area is less populated. The site is hard to find. It is surrounded by sage brush, and is only designated by a monument indicating that drilling is not permitted within a radius of 600 feet.
Drilling should continue to be prohibited near these nuclear sites. The Energy Department should continue to monitor the sites and refine its estimates of the safe distance for additional drilling.
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Thank goodness the use of nuclear bombs for peaceful uses was a passing fancy that did not meet the expectations of the federal government, national laboratories and a few corporations. There were ridiculous plans to deepen harbors and even blast a canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico across the southern U.S. border. Finally common sense prevailed when the consequences of these ill-fated ideas were understood by the public.
The term "fracking" had not been coined at the time of the ill-fated gas stimulation nuclear tests, which were crude early fracking attempts to stimulate gas production. Since then, thousands of natural gas wells have been safely drilled and fractured using conventional techniques that led to jobs and economic benefits in our region over the past decades. Without fracturing these natural gas wells would not be economic.
Glenn Vawter is a Glenwood Springs resident.