Let the DOE finish its study before drilling
A nuclear blast that was detonated 36 years ago near Parachute is still causing repercussions today. With the rise of natural gas exploration and production in Garfield County, competition for prime lease areas continues to grow. Many of the richest places have been staked out by the big players in the gas fields – EnCana and Williams – and a host of smaller companies. The lock on the lowest fruit on the natural gas tree has driven relative newcomers farther afield from the proven resources in the valley floor along the Colorado River in the central, gas-rich Piceance Basin.When it comes to drilling in the nuclear blast area, caution must be the guide.Presco Inc. of The Woodlands, Texas, has acquired leases close to the site of the 1969 nuclear explosion, called Project Rulison – about 12 miles southeast of Parachute – that sought to release gas by fracturing the underlying rock with a 40-kiloton device.Presco was set to have a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) last month about its intent to drill within a half-mile of the Project Rulison site, drawing concern from nearby landowners. Presco said it will ask for another hearing in about six months. It is a major concern that remnants of the blast may still exist underground.After the blast, the Department of Energy set aside 40 acres around ground zero and below 6,500 feet, where drilling is prohibited. Last year, the COGCC also set two wider areas around the site. Any company applying to drill within a three-mile area must notify the COGCC, which then makes a determination whether or not to let the drilling go forward. It also established a half-mile area, in which an intent to drill requires a full hearing before the oil and gas commissioners.Presco contends that all the gas released by the blast, which was radioactive, was released during three flaring periods over a 10-month period.The Energy Department began deactivating and cleaning the surface of the site in the 1970s, finishing in 1998. Air and groundwater monitoring hasn’t found any increase in radioactivity above normally occurring levels, according to a DOE report released in January 2005. The DOE also plans a subsurface study of the area that is expected to be finished in 2008.There’s no need to hurry. There are too many unanswered questions and dealing with possible radioactivity is just too serious to not take every necessary precaution.Let the DOE finish its study before allowing drilling to occur within the half-mile radius of the site. Hopefully its conclusions will alleviate the concerns.More gas companies are already inching their way closer to Project Rulison. Before opening the area for drilling, let the DOE do its work and let the COGCC keep drilling at bay until they do.
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