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The Gasbuggy Site, located approximately 55 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico, was the location of a single subsurface nuclear test in December 1967.

Purpose

The Gasbuggy experiment was conducted to determine if nuclear devices could be used to stimulate the release of natural gas that up until then was not possible to recover with conventional methods. The test was conducted by the AEC, U.S. Department of the Interior, and El Paso Natural Gas Company. It was the first natural-gas-reservoir stimulation experiment in the Plowshare Program, a government sponsored series of experiments aimed at finding peaceful applications for nuclear energy. This was also the first time that government and industry had conducted a gas stimulant experiment together. Scientists theorized that the detonation would stimulate the flow of natural gas through the fractures that would be created by the blast. The chimney would be used as a collection chamber for the released gas.

Test

On December 10, 1967, the AEC detonated a 29-kiloton-yield nuclear device 4,240 feet below ground surface. The blast created a cavity and a chimney of rubble above and within it. There was not a release of radiation at the surface during the blast. The radionuclides from the detonation were encapsulated into the molten rock of the cavity.

The experiment did stimulate gas production in greater quantities than in similar conventional gas wells. Unfortunately the gas was radioactive. Tests also showed that the heat value of the gas was significantly lower than at other wells.

Clean up

The Gasbuggy Site is a 640 acre area that includes radioactive contaminated bedrock around where the hot cavity of the blast was located. The bedrock is contaminated from the injection of tritiated water. There is possible surface contamination from the gas flaring and decontamination activities and near-surface hazardous waste contamination from closed mud pits. Most of the deep contamination was caused y ground water migration. The biggest concern during clean up was tritium because it was the most likely to migrate.

The site was decommissioned and demobilized in 1978. Soil sampling was performed in 1978, 1986, 2000, and 2002. Structures and equipment used for the test were decontaminated and removed. The liquid radioactive waste was injected into the cavity that was created by the explosion. The solid radioactive waste was shipped to the Nevada Test Site. All test wells were decommissioned and plugged. By 2004 over 5,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil had been removed from the mud pits. There is subsurface radioactive contamination in and around the test cavity. The DOE does not plan on removing this because no feasible technology exists to do so.

Beginning in 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has annually monitored ground water at and near the Gasbuggy Site. Samples are collected from seven springs/surface water ponds and five water supply wells used by ranches/livestock within the vicinity of the site. The Department of of Legacy Management took over the site in 2008. It will continue to conduct monitoring to ensure that detonation-related contamination does not migrate off site.

There is a permanent monument placed at ground zero of the site. It is a brass plaque in a concrete base. The plaque notes the historical significance of the area as well as prohibiting any subsurface excavation.

References

http://www.lm.doe.gov/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=1500 http://www.em.doe.gov/SiteInfo/PrjGasBuggy.aspx?PAGEID=MAIN

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