Release of nuke-site drilling study delayed

Release of nuke-site drilling study delayed

The release of a federal study that could lead to drilling around the site of a 1969 underground nuclear blast in western Colorado has been delayed until late spring.

The computer-modeling study gauges whether radioactive byproducts have migrated from the blast site near Rulison and whether drilling in the area could affect the underground movement of any contaminants. Officials with the Department of Energy say the study is undergoing reviews, backing up the hoped-for January release.

It will be used to set new boundaries for drilling around the blast site. Currently drilling is prohibited within a half-mile.

The area has been in a tug-of- war over appropriate uses since the Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 43-kiloton bomb 8,426 feet below the surface of remote land near Rulison.

The explosion freed gas and oil trapped in shale rock. But the gas and oil were too radioactive to be sold.

The blast left about 50 radioactive isotopes in deep fissures. Some dissipated in days, but others would still be highly radioactive today. One of the elements the DOE is particularly interested in is tritium, or radioactive hydrogen. It can travel in gas or water. Most radioactive contaminants are believed to be encased in the sand that melted and turned to glass during the explosion.

A test well dug near the blast site in the early 1970s found uncontaminated oil and gas. But the area sat mostly untouched until The Woodlands, Texas- based Presco Inc. applied to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to drill within the half-mile off-limits area in 2005.

Presco currently has six wells outside that perimeter, but company vice president Kim Bennetts said the company will apply to drill within the off-limits zone.

“We expect to request a hearing before the oil and gas commission,” Bennetts said. “We think drilling would be safe to within 1,000 feet of Project Rulison.”

Bennetts said he thinks the study, which a Las Vegas contractor has been conducting for DOE for the past several years, is “an unnecessary exercise in gross overkill.”

“The results of their study are irrelevant, as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

Tracy Plessinger, a DOE technical adviser, said she believes the study will be an important part of that agency’s decision on how to manage the Rulison site.

Once the study is released, Plessinger said, DOE officials will still need to take comments from the commission and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment before new boundaries are finalized.


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