Company to drill 40 more wells in Garfield County by year’s end |

Company to drill 40 more wells in Garfield County by year’s end

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Noble Energy Co., one of several firms extracting oil and gas from wells in Garfield County, told county commissioners on Monday that it has plans for drilling more than 40 new wells in the Rulison area in the remaining months of 2009.

This includes an unknown number of wells within the controversial three-mile perimeter surrounding the Rulison nuclear test-blast site, which some neighboring landowners fear could result in radiation leakage from an underground cavern contaminated by the blast.

The company, which voluntarily agreed to keep its drilling activities away from the test site itself until the end of this year, announced it is extending that agreement through 2010.

In a presentation to the commissioners, Noble Energy’s Stephen Flaherty said the company plans to spend $96 million on its drilling activities, which he said would generate $3.38 million in production taxes.

By comparison, although he had no exact details available at the meeting, Flaherty said Noble drilled considerably more wells in 2008, when it had as many as five different rigs operating in different locales. That rate of exploration, he said, included 21 drilling operations within the 3-mile radius of the Rulison test site, which yielded 18 operational wells.

Over the course of 2009, he said, the company plans to continue drilling in the area between a halfmile and three miles of the test site, but he pledged that the drilling will not violate the ” voluntary moratorium” on drilling within a half of a mile of the test site itself, which is controlled by the U. S. Department of Energy.

The DOE, which was previously known as the Atomic Energy Commission, detonated a 43- kiloton nuclear bomb near Rulison, 12 miles southwest of Rifle, in 1969.

The detonation was done 8,426 feet below the surface, well below sea level, in an attempt to literally bomb the natural gas out of sandstone formations and develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy.

The experiment produced less gas than anticipated, and what was produced was unsafe to use because it was radioactive.

Scientists tend to agree that the bomb created a cavity in the rock that will be radioactive for tens to thousands of years, a conclusion that has spawned concern that hydraulic fracturing nearby could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium.

The DOE controls 40 acres, including the blast site, and has banned drilling there below 6,000 feet. There is currently ” no credible scientific basis” to determine how far from the site it’s safe to conduct drilling or frac’ing, according to government documents.

“We do think we can do this in a safe environmental manner,” Flaherty told the commissioners, referring to drilling within the half-mile perimeter.

Commissioner Mike Samson told Flaherty, “We’ll do all we can to help the DOE go forward” in permitting drilling closer in to the site.

Commissioner John Martin, who earlier this year blasted the DOE for “dragging their feet” concerning mineral exploration at the blast site, was not at Monday’s meeting to voice his feelings.