Borehill drilling discussed

By Thomas Garcia
and Steve Hansen
Quay County Sun
Officials of two companies told Nara Visa-area residents and the Quay County Commission that no nuclear waste will be involved in their proposed drilling of exploratory 3-mile-deep boreholes in the Nara Visa area for the U.S. Department of Energy.
10-12drillchartMarc Eckles, program manager for DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City, hosted a public meeting on Oct. 4 at the Nara Visa Community Center to discuss the drilling project.
On Monday, Peter Mast, president of Atlanta-based Enercon Federal Services, and DOSECC’s president, Dennis Nielson, presented the proposed drilling plan to the Quay County Commission.
After the companies’ presentation, the commission voted to allow them to proceed with their development of a bid for a contract with the energy department to conduct the drilling. Mast said four other bidders are competing for the deal.
While the project would provide information that will help the energy department locate a possible site for highly radioactive wastes from nuclear weapons production, Mast said, the DOE does not intend that the Nara Visa site would actually host these materials.
Eckles said the DOE would look at the viability of disposing of waste generated at nuclear weapons production facilities in boreholes drilled into granite miles below the surface. However, he said the borehole in Nara Visa will be for research only and reiterated that no nuclear waste will be involved in the testing, which had concerned some area residents.
Mast said DOE also wants to learn whether highly radioactive used fuel from commercial nuclear power plants could be stored permanently in these ultra-deep boreholes.
If their bid for the project is successful, Enercon will oversee it, including community relations, and regulatory and permitting matters, while DOSECC will conduct the actual drilling, Mast said.
Over the project’s two years, Mast said, it could inject $30 million to $40 million into the county’s economy.
The project would include the drilling of one or two boreholes, each of which would be about three miles deep, Nielson said. The first would be 8 1/2 inches wide. If successful, a second 3-mile-deep borehole 17 inches wide would be drilled nearby, Nielson said.
The boreholes would be among the world’s deepest, Eckles said.
The holes would go deeper than sedimentary rock and aquifers closer to the surface and continue through granite-type bedrock far below, he said.
Mast said one of the chief concerns is making the holes as perfectly vertical and cylindrical as achievable, and recent drilling technology is making that possible.
At the Nara Visa meeting, “we were just reaching out to the residents about this project,” Eckles said. “It is very important to the DOE that we be transparent with this project.”
He said the borehole will be for research only and reiterated that no nuclear waste will be involved in the test drilling, which had concerned some area residents.
Along with economic developments, the project would bring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education opportunities to county schools, Eckles said.
Rene Rinestine, a Nara Visa resident who helped coordinate the public meeting, said residents were eager to learn more about the project. Mast estimated that 45 people attended.
Eckles said the energy department knows “this project cannot succeed without the community’s support.”
“Residents can get apprehensive when you start talking about waste disposal. It doesn’t exactly help that this project is being conducted by the same agency responsible for nuclear waste disposal,” he said.
Eckles said the project will take all precautions to avoid contaminating groundwater.
Mast said project managers will obtain all federal, state and local permits and follow all regulations.
Eckles said the main problem he can foresee is collapsing walls in the boreholes’ lowest depths.
Eckles said the project would create up to five jobs for the drilling, produce gross receipt tax revenue and supplies would be purchased from local retailers.
Mast said both companies will try to hire local residents wherever possible.
Mast said the bidding process is likely to take a year, which will include community relations, permitting and regulatory compliance and detailed planning.
Actual drilling, he said, is likely to begin in early 2018.

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