Thursday, March 12, 2020

Swords to Plowshares in Colorado, nearby New Mexico

“But we are only termites on a planet and maybe when we bore too deeply into the planet there'll be a reckoning. Who knows?”
Harry S. Truman 

"What's important about morality in politics is us. We own the chicken farm. We must give our bird-brained, feather-headed politicians morals. Politicians love to think of themselves as "free-range" but they do not have the capacity to hunt or gather morals in the wild. If we fail to supply them with morality, politicians begin to act very scary in the barnyard. These are enormous headless chickens and they have nukes."
— P.J. O'Rourke (Don't Vote, it Just Encourages the Bastards) 

In search of Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE)

By Rob Carrigan,

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s,  remote locations in Colorado and nearby New Mexico became testing grounds designed to salvage the idea that we can be peaceful and useful — with nukes.

Project Plowshare was the overall United States program for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful constructive purposes. As part of the program, 31 nuclear warheads were detonated in 27 separate tests. Plowshare was the US portion of what are called Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE).

A similar Soviet program was carried out under the name Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.

"On May 17, 1973, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the predecessor agency of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), detonated three nuclear devices nearly simultaneously in a single emplacement well at depths of 5,840; 6,230; and 6,690 feet at the Rio Blanco site.
The test was conducted in low-permeability, gas-bearing sandstones at the base of the Fort Union Formation and the upper portion of the Williams Fork Formation. This was the third and final natural gas reservoir stimulation test in the Plowshare Program, which was designed to develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy. The two previous tests were Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico and Project Rulison in Colorado. The AEC conducted the test in partnership with CER Geonuclear Corporation and Continental Oil Company (Conoco)," according to a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Energy.

'Project Rio Blanco' was an underground nuclear test that took place on May 17, 1973 in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, approximately 36 miles northwest of Rifle.

"The purpose of the Rio Blanco test was to stimulate the flow of natural gas in low-permeability geologic formations. The detonations produced extremely high temperatures that vaporized a volume of rock, temporarily creating a cavity at each depth. The fractured rock above each cavity collapsed shortly after the detonation, forming a rubble-filled cavity and a collapse chimney that extends above each detonation point. It was expected that the collapse chimneys created by the detonation would be connected, allowing for improved gas production from the fractured rock surrounding each collapse chimney," says the Department of Energy information.

Three 33-kiloton nuclear devices were detonated nearly simultaneously in a single emplacement well at depths of 5,838, 6,230, and 6,689 feet below ground level.

This was the third and final natural-gas-reservoir stimulation test in the Plowshare program, which was designed to develop peaceful uses for nuclear energy.

The two previous tests were 'Project Gasbuggy' in New Mexico and Project 'Rulison' in Colorado.

The United States Atomic Energy Commission conducted the test in partnership with CER Geonuclear Corporation and Continental Oil Company. A placard, erected in 1976, now marks the site where the test was conducted. The site is accessible via a dirt road, Rio Blanco County Route 29.

Project Rulison, named after the rural community of Rulison, Colorado, was an underground 40-kiloton nuclear test project in the United States on September 10, 1969, about 8 miles (13 km) SE of the town of Grand Valley, Colorado (now named Parachute, Colorado) in Garfield County.
The location of "Surface Ground Zero" is 39°24′19.0″N 107°56′54.7″W. The depth of the test cavity was approximately 8,400 ft (2,600 m) below the ground surface. It was part of the Operation Mandrel weapons test series under the name Mandrel Rulison, as well as the Operation Plowshare project which explored peaceful engineering uses of nuclear explosions. The peaceful aim of Project Rulison was to determine if natural gas could be easily liberated from underground regions. This site remains under active monitoring by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management.

The test succeeded in liberating large quantities of natural gas; however the resulting radioactivity left the gas contaminated and unsuitable for applications such as cooking and heating homes. Although projected public radiation exposures from commercial use of stimulated gas had been reduced to less than 1% of background, it became clear in the early 1970s that public acceptance within the U.S. of any product containing radioactivity, no matter how minimal, was difficult if not impossible.

The Department of Energy began a cleanup of the site in the 1970s which was completed in 1998. A buffer zone put in place by the state of Colorado still exists around the site. A January 2005 report by the DOE stated that radioactivity levels were normal at the surface and in groundwater, though a later report due in 2007 was expected to more fully explore if there was subsurface contamination and whether or not radioactivity was still spreading outward from the blast site itself.

A placard, erected in 1976, now marks the site where the blast took place. It is accessible via a gravel road, Garfield County Route 338.
'Project Gasbuggy' was an underground nuclear detonation carried out by the United States Atomic Energy Commission on December 10, 1967 in rural northern New Mexico. It was part of 'Operation Plowshare,' a program designed to find peaceful uses for nuclear explosions.

Gasbuggy was carried out by the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory and the El Paso Natural Gas Company, with funding from the Atomic Energy Commission. Its purpose was to determine if nuclear explosions could be useful in fracturing rock formations for natural gas extraction.

The site, lying in the Carson National Forest, is approximately 21 miles southwest of Dulce, New Mexico and 54 miles east of Farmington, and was chosen because natural gas deposits were known to be held in sandstone beneath Leandro Canyon. A 29 kilotons of TNT device was placed at a depth of 4,227 feet underground, then the well was backfilled before the device was detonated; a crowd had gathered to watch the detonation from atop a nearby butte.

The detonation took place after a couple of delays, the last one caused by a breakdown of the explosive refrigeration system. The detonation produced a rubble chimney that was 80 feet wide and 335 feet high above the blast center.

After an initial surface cleanup effort the site sat idle for over a decade. A later surface cleanup effort primarily tackled leftover toxic materials. In 1978, a marker monument was installed at the Surface Ground Zero (SGZ) point that provided basic explanation of the historic test. Below the main plaque lies another which indicates that no drilling or digging is allowed without government permission.
The site is publicly accessible via the Carson National Forest, F.S. 357 dirt road/Indian J10 that leads into the Carson National Forest.

Following the 'Project Gasbuggy' test, two subsequent nuclear explosion fracturing experiments were conducted in western Colorado in an effort to refine the technique. They were Project 'Rulison' in 1969 and 'Project Rio Blanco' in 1973. In both cases the gas radioactivity was still seen as too high and in the last case the triple-blast rubble chimney structures disappointed the design engineers. Soon after that test the 15-year 'Project Plowshare' program funding dried up.

Later, with the coming of the millennium, early fracturing tests such as these were, for the most part, replaced by hydraulic fracturing technologies.

Photo information:
Workers with the Atomic Energy Commission place a nuclear device into a shaft drilled on Doghead Mountain on Sept. 10, 1969, as part of the government's attempt to find peaceful uses for nuclear explosions. This effort sought to extract natural gas from the Rulison Field near Rifle. The gas that came out, however, was radioactive and could not be sold.
Department of Energy/1969

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