Rulison Families Fight Drilling in Nuclear Test Zone

An oil and gas drilling company wants to drill within three-quarters of a mile from the 40-acre nuclear test site in Rulison and three families within the vicinity are asking for a delay until an independent study can prove there is no radioactive contamination.A previous Colorado Confidential post described the nuclear test:

A 43-kiloton nuclear bomb was exploded in 1969 about 11 miles west of Rifle in an area called Rulison, not far from I-70. The US Department of Energy was experimenting with a new method to release natural gas from the tight rock formations.

This “Rulison Project” experiment had mixed results. Yes, the blast freed up gas reserves–but they were too radioactive to be used safely.

Because the DOE was unsure how far the underground contamination by radiation had spread, DOE banned all drilling below 6,500 feet and required notification of any surface activity within a three-mile radius of the bomb site.

An article from the Post Independent by John Gardner noted the families’ concern:

The families’ lawyer explained his clients are concerned drilling in the area may still have the potential to contaminate water supply, soil and the air near their homes. They are hoping an entity independent of the gas companies will test for radioactivity in the area to determine if these dangers are still present.

Robert E. Moran of Michael Moran Associates LLC in Golden, is a hydrogeologist and geochemist who researched past studies conducted on the area since the blast for Attorney Danielson and the three families. His research showed that all of the most recent studies have been done by gas companies and none have been done by independent groups.

“We just want some independent studies done,” Moran said. “None of us are saying that we know what the actual situation is.”

Moran concluded in his report that “the magnitude of what could go wrong is considerable and future problems could be practically irreversible.”

Presco has seven natural gas producing wells within the three-mile radius of the 40-acre blast site and has given presentations to show the lack of risk drilling near the Rulison nuclear site. It does periodic testing of gas produced from these wells at an independent Illinois laboratory and so far no radioactivity has been discovered. Noble Energy has a request before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioner to also drill within three-quarter miles from the Rulison bomb site.

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Leslie Robinson

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