GarCo leans toward mineral rights swap

Garfield County commissioners have decided not to endorse a U.S. Department of Energy proposal for management of future natural gas development near the Project Rulison nuclear blast site.

Commissioners on Monday instead reiterated their long-standing opposition to any drilling closer than a half-mile from the site. They also expressed support for the concept of the federal government subsequently compensating affected mineral rights owners by providing comparable rights in a trade.

“The mineral rights owners would receive almost immediate payment, and then the surface owners would be safe,” Commission John Martin said.

“It’s the best way to go,” Commissioner Mike Samson agreed.

Project Rulison involved the 1969 detonation of a nuclear device underground south of Rulison in a federal experiment aimed at freeing up commercial quantities of natural gas.

In recent years, natural gas companies have begun drilling around the site. No such drilling has occurred within a half-mile of the site, and it could take place only after a hearing and an approval by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy released a proposal recommending that the state allow drilling to proceed gradually closer to the blast site, with continued testing to ensure no releases of radioactive contaminants.

The agency believes gas development ultimately will be shown to be safe outside a 40-acre federal restrictive zone around the site.

The county and some residents fear drilling within a half-mile could result in contamination of water and produced gas.

At a state commission meeting this summer, an owner of land near the blast site suggested a mineral rights swap as a means of compensating mineral owners while protecting landowners.

County oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan said such a trade would require congressional action.

Jack Craig, the site’s manager for the Department of Energy, recently wrote to Jordan about the minerals swap idea, “DOE is not optimistic that this possibility will be fruitful; however, DOE remains open to pursuing alternatives beneficial to all parties.”

Noble Energy owns most of the lease rights within that half-mile. Stephen Flaherty, the company’s director of governmental relations, said Noble is interested in the mineral swap concept.

“We’re willing to look at all options,” Flaherty said.

Said Cristy Koeneke, an owner of mineral rights in the blast site area, “I think any solution that compensates people for rights that have been taken bears consideration, for sure.”


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