County wants test wells at Rulison site

Officials have written to congressional delegates, but got few responses

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County officials say they have gotten little response to the county’s request that the Department of Energy be forced to drill test wells to establish how close to the Project Rulison nuclear blast site natural gas development can safely occur.

County oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, both Democrats, are the only members of Colorado’s congressional delegation whose staff has responded to the letter county commissioners sent to the delegation and Energy Secretary Steven Chu about the issue in early April. She said the staff didn’t express an opinion on the matter.

Commissioner John Martin said he brought up the subject during a meeting with U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., and a staff member and they didn’t know anything about it.

“They said they’d get back to us, and it’s been three weeks,” Martin said.

Salazar’s spokesman, Eric Wortman, said the congressman’s office is working with Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., in hopes of formulating a joint response to the county’s concerns. Wortman said the county “raised some good points” in the letter.
Project Rulison was a 1969 federal experiment in which a nuclear device was exploded some 8,000 feet underground south of Rulison in an effort to free natural gas.

Commissioners want the DOE to drill wells rather than rely on computer modeling and tests of radioactivity from commercial drilling operations to determine an appropriate area to be kept off limits to gas development.

The DOE prohibits drilling below 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area surrounding the blast site.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires a hearing for any company seeking to drill within a half-mile of the site, something no company has yet sought to do.

The DOE previously has rejected the county’s request to drill test wells. The agency says it would be cost-prohibitive and make little sense from a technical standpoint.

The agency also has dropped its opposition to commercial drilling within a half-mile of the blast site. It now supports letting drilling gradually approach the drilling exclusion zone as long as companies can show they won’t do well fracturing that penetrates the zone. The DOE also stipulated that tests for radioactive contamination from Project Rulison must come back negative.

While in Rifle in April, Udall hadn’t yet seen the county’s letter but said he intended to work with the county to “make sure all the questions are answered” regarding Project Rulison.


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