Garfield County asks feds to investigate Rulison blast site |

Garfield County asks feds to investigate Rulison blast site

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Garfield County Commissioner John Martin says the Department of Energy has been dragging its feet regarding the Rulison nuclear blast site for 40 years.

Commissioners decided Monday to send a letter to state and federal politicians and the DOE asking for the DOE to investigate where it’s safe and unsafe to access property and minerals near the site. Commissioners are also asking the DOE to pay any property owners denied access to property and minerals. In addition, they’re asking U.S. senators and state representatives to “conduct a formal inquiry to determine why the DOE should not be compelled to undertake these actions,” commissioners said in the letter to the DOE.

They also voted to send a second letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission asking it to reaffirm its commitment to exercising caution in issuing drilling permits for spots near the blast site. The commission has said it will take precautions such as holding hearings on any applications for permits to drill within a half-mile of the blast site and notifying all the stake-holders.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt said the county has been talking to the DOE for years about a thorough study of the blast site and how to handle resources near it.

“I think this is a very reasonable request and one that is timely because I anticipate that the activity will just continue to move closer to the site,” she said. “My hope has always been that (the DOE) is willing to compensate.”

Martin said the responsibility should not simply be passed on to the DOE since the commission issues drilling permits. He recommended drafting the letter to the commission.

“Without a hearing, or scientific proof, how are they going to issue those legitimately? But they’ve been doing so,” he said.

Later in the discussion, he said, “We’re just asking them to live up to their word. They just seem to be dragging their feet ” since 1969.”

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 in an attempt to literally bomb the natural gas out of sandstone and develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy. It produced less gas than anticipated. The gas was unsafe to use because it was radioactive. There’s no feasible technology to remove the radioactive contamination from the underground cavity.

Scientists tend to agree that the bomb created a cavity in the rock that will be radioactive for tens to thousands of years. The site sparks concern that hydraulic fracturing nearby could free water or methane contaminated with radioactive tritium. The DOE controls 40 acres, including the blast site, and forbids 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 the commissioners’ letter to the DOE.

County oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan said energy companies have been doing sampling in the area near the blast site over the past year. Sampling is ongoing and hasn’t detected anything “particularly monumental,” she said.

The letter says, “As the drilling grows closer to the blast site, the possibility of encountering radionuclides increases. The result is a game of chicken in which the oil and gas companies who are legitimately accessing minerals in the Rulison area could accidentally encounter radioactive substances from the blast as they move nearer to it.”

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