A hazardous place for drilling | AspenTimes.com

A hazardous place for drilling

Tim McFlynnAspen, CO Colorado

The Department of Energy says, Dont worry about a thing if Encana, Williams and Noble Energy drill for natural gas around Rulison ground zero. In the Battlement Creek drainage south of I-70, this is the site of a massive, and failed, atomic bomb experiment in concert with the natural gas industry in 1969. Remember when Big Tobacco and the federal agencies protecting public health denied for decades that smoking was harmful?DOEs new Rulison report is pure conjecture. Curiously, the report was delayed for years, then released days before next weeks Oil & Gas Commissions hearing on Rulison in Grand Junction. Read it for yourself and see if youre convinced (www.lm.doe.gov/documents/sites/co/rulison/45224_2007_Rulison_TritiumTransport_OLM-1.pdf). It is based on mathematical modeling, not scientific data. And if its now safe, why are all the relevant documents still classified, beyond any public scrutiny?Before we trust the federal agency and the industry it regulates again, lets connect the dots.In 1969, at the time of the 43-kiloton blast, the Atomic Energy Commission billed Project Rulison as a joint industry-government gas stimulation experiment to investigate the feasibility of using nuclear explosives to stimulate a low-permeability gas field The objective [was] to determine if [the geologic formation would be] sufficiently protective in the event gas production wells are drilled adjacent to the site. In fact, when they then drilled a test well adjacent to the site to see if the low permeability sandstone was sufficiently protective, guess what they discovered? Yes, the bomb created a huge fracture zone and lots and lots of recoverable gas the ground shook all the way from Grand Junction to Carbondale but the gas was so radioactive it was required to be flared off and not collected or sold to consumers.Fast forward 31 years when, in its March 2000 report, DOE found tritium to be the primary contaminant of concern over the next 100 years because it is one of the most mobile radiologic isotopes and is found in abundance at the test site. Since well bores would pass through groundwater aquifers, the report noted, No proven and cost-effective technologies exist for the removal of radioactive contamination from groundwater at these depths. And the report did not consider pathways for potential migration into the air, groundwater or natural gas of plutonium, uranium, carbon-14 or krypton-85 all admitted to be associated with this underground nuclear blast (though the specifics remain classified.)Last week DOE released another report that only considered tritium transport at the Rulison site. DOE concludes that there is 95 percent certainty that a hypothetical well producing gas just outside the 40 acre drilling exclusion area would release groundwater contamination by tritium. If there were only a 5 percent chance of a lethal discharge, would you play Russian roulette?Thankfully, Gov. Bill Ritter and both houses of the Legislature have restored balance to the permitting process. On Oct. 2, a newly reconstituted Oil & Gas Commission will consider how best to insure that we take no public health and safety risks by permitting gas drilling anywhere near the Rulison nuclear blast cavity and radiating fracture zones. The commission should not rely on claims by the federal agency that created the hazard or the industry that estimates some $300,000,000 of recoverable natural gas within DOEs long-established, 3-mile notification radius.The commission would be wise to postpone all further permits and drilling until it has independent scientific proof, based on data open to public scrutiny, that rules out gas, air or groundwater contamination. The commission should require independent monitoring of all 27 existing wells within DOEs 3-mile radius. And this independent, scientific analysis and monitoring should be paid for by DOE and industry, not Colorado taxpayers or ground zero landowners and municipalities.Today, we have a 40-acre no-drill zone one can shoot a pellet gun across a 40-acre parcel. The bomb detonated at Rulison was more than three times the size of the bomb dropped in 1945 on Hiroshima, Japan. DOEs own three-mile drilling-notification radius should simply be off limits to further drilling. Caution and common sense demand no less until there is full disclosure of classified documents and independent scientific analysis, evaluated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.Voice your concerns by coming to the public hearing at the Old Court House, 544 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction, on Oct. 2, starting at 10 a.m. with public comment at 2 p.m. Or e-mail comments to rulisoncomments@gmail.com for submission to the Oil & Gas Commissioner.Tim McFlynn is a resident of Old Snowmass. Editors note: Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If youd like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at The Aspen Times at 925-3414, extension 17624 or e-mail nhavlen@aspentimes.com.