Lawsuit seeks hearing on drilling near Colorado nuke site
December 21, 2008
RULISON, Colo. Landowners near the site of a 1969 underground nuclear blast are suing to force a hearing on plans to drill natural gas in the area.Two environmental groups and two couples have filed a lawsuit seeking a hearing on the state’s approval of drilling permits within three miles of the blast site near Rulison in western Colorado.Area residents argue the use of hydraulic fracturing will increase the risk of radioactive contaminants reaching the surface. The process injects water and other materials into the ground to boost gas production.The lawsuit was filed last week in Denver District Court by the Western Colorado Congress, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Rulison residents Ruth and Cary Weldon and Marcia and Wesley Kent.The defendants named are the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the main regulatory body, and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), which received permits to drill in the area.Theo Stein, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, declined to comment on the lawsuit because the agency did not have enough time to review the lawsuit Friday. The department oversees the oil and gas commission.The Rulison site, about 190 miles west of Denver, was among several where the federal government tried putting nuclear devices to peaceful use in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The goal was to free gas trapped in tight sands, but the gas was too radioactive to sell.The U.S. Department of Energy had said it hasn’t found anything amiss over years of monitoring wells and groundwater. The DOE has said most of the radioactivity from the 1969 blast was trapped in a glass dome formed when melted and vaporized rock collected in a puddle with a diameter of about 160 feet and cooled.But a scientist hired by the landowners site has questioned whether all the radioactive material was trapped.”The quantity, nature and extent of the contamination produced by the Rulison explosion have never been determined,” the lawsuit said.EnCana’s five applications for drilling permits were approved in November. EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said the company wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but added that EnCana doesn’t believe there is a problem with drilling in the area.The former Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 43-kiloton bomb to free gas in the Williams Fork Formation, 8,426 feet below the surface.A well drilled by DOE produced gas, but it was considered too radioactive to be sold commercially. The agency began deactivating and cleaning the area in the 1970s.Long-term management of the blast site was turned over last fall to the DOE’s Office of Legacy Management, but it’s the state oil and gas commission that approves drilling permits.