Rulison-area plan for 79 gas wells cleared by BLM

The Bureau of Land Management has approved a plan by Noble Energy to drill 79 natural gas wells in the area of the Project Rulison underground nuclear blast.

The project is still subject to White River National Forest review regarding a proposal for three-tenths of a mile of access road and pipelines crossing forest land. A 30-day public-comment period on that proposal ends Jan. 4.

All the wells would be drilled between a half mile and three miles from the Project Rulison site, which is south of Rulison and east of Parachute. In 1969, a nuclear device was detonated about 8,400 feet underground at the site in a federal experiment aimed at producing natural gas. The gas produced was less than expected and too radioactive to be used, and it was flared off.

A hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would have been required for allowing drilling within a half-mile of the site, where no commercial drilling has occurred since the blast.

Wells drilled within three miles also are subject to special state regulations, which include giving the U.S. Department of Energy authority to sample any wells for radioactivity.

In the BLM’s environmental assessment of the Noble plan, it voiced confidence that the Department of Energy and state are adequately addressing issues surrounding oil and gas development near Project Rulison. However, the agency said it will ask the Energy Department to include one of Noble’s proposed wells in its long-term monitoring program.

Also, to comply with state policy for wells within three miles of Project Rulison, drilling cuttings and fluids will be tested for tritium, a radioactive material. Assuming they test negative, Noble will be allowed to place cuttings in lined pits or trenches and bury them on site. Noble plans to drill directionally from five well pads, all on private land.

Public comments on the Noble plan included one from Noalani Terry of Montrose.

“It defies all logic and common sense to drill anywhere near a nuclear blast site, but especially so close to the Colorado River, which provides water to millions of people. The risk of contamination by radioactivity is just too high,” Terry wrote to the BLM.

However, Roy Savage, whose family owns the land where Noble would drill, wrote that the family agrees with the Department of Energy and state oil and gas commission that the proposed drilling area is safe.

The project area’s 1,820 acres includes 736 acres of national forest land. The remainder is private land, of which 724 acres overlie federal oil and gas leases.

Thirty-nine of the wells would tap federally leased minerals; the remaining 40 involve private leases.

Noble plans to drill the wells over three to five years.


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