Fracking

The Nuclear Origins of Hydraulic Fracturing

A Fracking Disaster

On September 10th, 1969, a few miles from the town of Parachute in western Colorado, the U.S. government detonated a nuclear device two and a half times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It was a test to determine the viability of using nuclear weapons for non-military purposes; in this case, the extraction of natural gas.

Just three weeks earlier, Woodstock had brought over 400,000 people together for a four-day festival of music and art, which marked the end of a decade of social strife in America, where anti-war protests, civil rights marches and free love collided with state oppression, political assassinations and a burgeoning military-industrial complex.

Project Rulison, as the nuclear fracking experiment was called, had captured the greedy imaginations of fossil-fuel-hungry capitalists and their federal partners who hoped to release hundreds of billions of cubic feet of natural gas at the experiment site. After an exploratory test well was drilled, scientists concluded that “no flow of water, or water supply” could be harmed by the atomic explosion. Much to their dismay, however, only 455 million cubic feet of gas was freed – falling well short of the billions estimated – and rendered useless by radioactive contamination.

Despite the disastrous results of the Rulison project, one more experiment was conducted on the other side of the Colorado River at Rio Blanco with not one, but three nuclear devices to raise the stakes to one hundred kilotons, or seven and a half Hiroshimas put together. Needless to say, the gas yield was far below expectations and radioactive.

Plowshare, the name of the federal program of which these short-sighted tests were a part of, was finally terminated in 1975. Its task was to repurpose the country’s over-supplied nuclear arsenal for geo-engineering projects, such as storing fuel oil under the seafloor off the coast of Guam or blowing up mountains to facilitate the construction of highways and railroads.

Roy Rodgers was slated to close the Woodstock with Happy Trails, but he declined, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall. Instead, Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner foreshadowing the torturous and disintegrating road our fossil-fuel addicted country was determined to embark on.

All three nuclear fracking experiment sites, Gasbuggy, Rulison and Rio Blanco are still monitored for surface contamination by the Department of Energy. According to them, no radioactivity associated with the tests has ever been found.

Unclassified Department of Energy newsreel film about Project Rulison

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