Regulators ponder Rulison monitoring

State regulators plan to consider revisions to a year-old monitoring program for natural gas drilling occurring near the Project Rulison nuclear test site.

That reconsideration comes as the U.S. Department of Energy prepares to issue a revision of its earlier computer model assessing the possible danger of drilling near the site, located south of Rulison and east of Battlement Mesa.

The state also is facing a recently filed lawsuit challenging how it is handling applications to drill near the site.

Project Rulison involved the federal government’s 1969 detonation of a nuclear device deep underground in an experiment aimed at freeing up natural gas.

Dave Neslin, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said about 80 to 90 drilling permits have been issued in the area surrounding the site.

The three companies with most of the oil and gas leases within three miles of the site — Noble Energy, Williams Production RMT and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) — initiated development of a monitoring plan required for wells drilled within that area.

The state says tests have shown no radioactive contamination from drilling in the area.

Neslin said the state has been meeting with federal and Garfield County officials to talk about possible revisions to the plan, and it will meet with property owners in the area.

He said the state might want to revise limits on drilling rig numbers in the area of Project Rulison. It also might make sense to make the protective area more elliptical rather than a perfect circle, based on the geology of the area, he said.

Some oil and gas commissioners said at their meeting last week that any changes should await the revised DOE modeling. A study the DOE released in 2007 concluded there is a 95 percent chance of no contamination by a key radioactive isotope at a hypothetical gas well just outside a 40-acre drilling exclusion zone at the site.

The DOE opposes drilling within a half mile of the blast site, but it has said it eventually might support the idea. The closest well has been drilled just outside the half-mile mark.

No companies have sought to drill within a half mile, which would require approval by oil and gas commissioners following a hearing.

Meanwhile, in December some landowners near the site joined the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Western Colorado Congress in suing the state over its denial to grant them a hearing over five permits EnCana sought to drill wells in the Project Rulison area.


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