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Don’t drill too close to nuke site

Project Rulison was a dumb thing to do back in 1969, and a state agency’s decision last week to lease the underground nuclear test site for gas drilling smacks of more risky action.

In the 1960s, the dangers of radioactivity were well-known. Yet the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission still liked the idea of using nuclear bombs to fracture rock formations deep underground to loosen the valuable gas reserves.

The Project Rulison test in 1969, and the Project Rio Blanco test that followed farther north, were failures. The gas these explosions liberated became contaminated with radioactivity.



How’d you like to burn that in your furnace or kitchen stove?

When natural gas drilling resumed in a big way here a decade ago, concerns cropped up about drilling too close to the Project Rulison site, which actually lies alongside the Battlement Creek road, about three miles up from Battlement Mesa.



A new round of testing characterized the explosion site, 8,000 feet underground, as a “Thermos,” an open cavity filled partway with rubble, its inside surface cooked into a hard enamel by the heat of the nuclear explosion. State officials declared drilling off-limits in 40 acres surrounding the site.

Last fall, Texas-based Presco, a new player in the Garfield County gas fields, filed for approval and increased well density to drill in the Project Rulison area.

Officials with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission never bothered to inform residents that a new drilling proposal overlapped the Project Rulison site. This newspaper broke the story that approval was imminent for 40-acre spacing in the six square miles of land over and west of the test site.

To the gas commission’s credit, members questioned Presco’s plan extensively at a meeting held Feb. 10 in Glenwood Springs. And the commissioners significantly expanded the 40-acre restriction, ruling that no drilling could occur within a half-mile of the test site ” effectively placing 520 acres off-limits for drilling.

But is a half-mile far enough? Does drilling at that distance compound the initial stupidity of Project Rulison? Is Presco willing to risk customer fears by drilling just a half mile from an underground nuclear explosion site?

Why not play it safe and step back much farther? A couple of miles would make a lot more sense, and should alleviate any fears that radioactivity would have extended that far to contaminate gas reserves.


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