Residents object to borehole project
A public hearing was held Monday by the county commission.
February 8, 2017 | View PDF
More than 60 area residents voiced their concerns and objections about the impact a deep borehole field test could have in the region during a Monday county commission public hearing.
“I am here to let you know on behalf of my wife, children and grandchildren, we are 100 percent against this project,” said Ed Hughes, a land owner in Nara Visa where the project is to be placed.
Atlanta-based ENERCON and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City were selected by the Department of Energy last month to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test near Nara Visa in Quay County. Boreholes are narrow, vertical holes drilled deep into the earth — approximately three miles below the earth’s surface in the case of the proposed project. The test is meant to determine if boreholes are plausible for long-term nuclear waste storage.
County commissioners passed an ordinance in October 2016 in support of the project.
Area residents had also spoken out about the project at the Jan. 30 Quay County Commission meeting held in the 10th Judicial District Courtroom in Tucumcari.
Before residents commented at the city hearing, Project Manager Marc Eckles of DOSECC made a presentation about the project and scope of work that would be done by the company.
“There will be no nuclear waste involved in this project,” Eckles told those gathered, adding that the project is purely research-based with zero chance of any waste of any kind being placed in the boreholes.
Hughes said the project will have negative impact on the county in the long run with negative impacts far outweighing the potential boost to the economy.
He said one of the main concerns is if the test is conducted in Nara Visa and is successful, is the DOE going to simply complete the project and walk away?
How likely is it that the DOE will do testing, have success and then move on to an untested site to proceed? Hughes asked, adding that it would make sense for the DOE to proceed with the project in an area where it already has the support of the local communities and governments. He said the DOE would also want to conduct the project in an area where the soil and bedrock characteristics are similar.
“If I wanted to start a vineyard in Quay County, I wouldn’t plant grapes in Nevada to see if they would grow and comeback to start my business,” said Logan resident TJ Smith, adding that if Quay County opens the door and has geological formations that can be used to store nuclear waste, there is no way to close that door again.
“This is the most important decision we will ever make in our lifetime,” Smith said, adding that nuclear waste like plutonium has a life of 240,000 years.
“We are going to stand together and say ‘not in our back yard,’ or we are going to, for the lack of better words, drink the Kool-Aid,” he said.
Smith said the type of jobs to be created by the project are not the type of jobs he wants for his county’s future.
“The possibility of boreholes being used to store nuclear waste is the whole reason we are here,” Hughes said. “The risk for environmental impact on this region is great during and after the testing.”
Hughes said to drill the test holes, the companies will have to go through the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies drinking water to Quay County, and there is a chance for contaminating the aquifer during drilling or if there were a leak from waste.
“I have several decades of drilling experience,” Eckles responded. “I have not had any measures put in place to prevent the contamination of water sources fail.”
Eckles said metal casings will be used to line the borehole to prevent any contamination of the aquifer.
Hughes said the impact of the contamination of the water by the drilling or later by the leaking of nuclear waste is just to much of a risk.
Eckles said there will be language in the contract between the companies and James that will guarantee that no nuclear waste will be placed in the holes during this project.
County Attorney Warren Frost said according to New Mexico statutes, any time nuclear waste is going to be stored, an agreement must be reached between the federal government and a state task force and legislative sub-committee, and after an agreement is reached, it must be approved by the state legislature and the governor.
“Even if the companies do not keep their word as they have given here today, there is a mechanism in place where the state has to approve any waste storage,” Frost said, adding that Quay County needs a memorandum of understanding signed by the land owner, county and DOE, giving the county authority to seek injunctive relief if the DOE ever tries to use the site for the disposal of waste.
“When a company comes in and offers economic revitalization, it is a very receptive concept,” Smith said. “Residents want to hear more about how this will make their community better.”
He added that anyone would be naive to think the project would revitalize Nara Visa economy, because contractors are not going to stay there, and infrastructure cannot be created on the short term.
County Commissioners will have the ordinance placed back on the agenda for consideration again when they meet in two weeks, according to Chairman Franklin McCasland.
Eckles said he and other officials will meet with residents and discuss more information about the project and their concerns during a public outreach meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Nara Visa Community Center.