State alleges gas drilling violations near Project Rulison

State Senate gives preliminary approval; Republicans assail proposal

A Denver energy company has until next week to respond formally to state allegations that it may not have conducted required surveying work to determine how close it drilled to the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast site.

Noble Energy said in a brief statement Wednesday it has conducted the surveys for the four wells in question.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has issued four notices of alleged violation against Noble Energy. The wells were drilled directionally from about a mile away from the Project Rulison site, to underground locations about three-quarters of a mile away, the company says.

Project Rulison involved the federal government detonation of a nuclear device deep underground in 1969. The experiment was designed to free up natural gas at a site east of Battlement Mesa and south of Rulison.

State regulators say Noble failed to comply with a requirement to perform high-accuracy,
gyroscopic well-bore surveys after drilling. They also say Noble didn’t obtain approval for completing the wells, including perforating the well casings in gas-bearing formations, and didn’t submit a directional drilling survey report showing each well’s distance from a half-mile-radius circle surrounding Project Rulison.

The state requires a hearing be held for any well-permit applications within that radius, where no wells have been drilled and where the U.S. Department of Energy opposes any drilling.

“These are alleged violations, and we are working with the COGCC to discuss the issues raised,” Noble said in the statement. “Surveys were conducted on wells in question while drilling, and we know where all the bottom hole locations are.  At no time was the public health compromised.”

Debbie Baldwin, the commission’s environmental manager, said it’s possible Noble did the necessary work but didn’t provide it to the state. She said the state is awaiting Noble’s response to what is “a serious matter.”

Attorney Luke Danielson represents some landowners near the Project Rulison site who joined citizens groups in suing the state over its denial of their request for a hearing over proposed nearby drilling. He believes the Noble allegations reinforce his contention that such drilling creates unacceptable risks, despite drilling conditions imposed by the state.

The well surveys are required to figure out where directionally drilled wells actually are going, he said.

“That they’re not submitting this is an extremely serious matter,” Danielson said.


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