Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

ENERCON selected to explore borehole field test possibility

Nara Visa site being considered.


January 4, 2017

By Thomas Garcia and Steve Hansen

Quay County Sun

The U.S. Department of Energy selected ENERCON as one of two companies to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test in New Mexico, according to a press release from the DOE.

ENERCON’s selection was announced on Dec. 19 in a release from DOE Under Secretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr.

Four companies were selected to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test with only one site being chosen for the actual field test, said Chip Cameron, ENERCON spokesman, who said the first phase of the project will focus on the feasibility of conducting the deep borehole drilling in Nara Visa.

Cameron said ENERCON plans to conduct a lot of outreach in January and February with local residents and government entities.

He said the main goal at this point is to keep the public informed about all that is going on with the project, and the public support of the project is crucial for successful consideration of Nara Visa as the actual drill site.

Cameron said the selection for the drilling project will not take place until phase four. He said the DOE will examine the data from the four selection sites and determine which presents the best conditions for the borehole field test.

Officials with Atlanta-based ENERCON Federal Services and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City met in October with residents of Nara Visa about the proposed drilling of exploratory three-mile-deep boreholes in the Nara Visa area for the U.S. DOE.

Deep boreholes are narrow, vertical holes drilled deep into the earth, in this case to a depth of approximately three miles below the earth’s surface. The department is partnering with companies to study the feasibility of engineering deep boreholes. One of the field test’s main purposes is to collect data on the type of rocks, the chemistry of the water, the depths to these rocks and water, the temperature of the rocks and other geologic data to see if nuclear waste disposal is feasible in this kind of geology.

However, Marc Eckles, program manager for DOSECC and Enercon President Peter Mast ensured area residents around Nara Visa and the Quay County Commission that no nuclear waste will be involved in their drilling.

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 added, the borehole in Nara Visa will be for research only, and no nuclear waste will be involved in the testing, which had concerned some area residents.

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.

He said the project would create up to five jobs for the drilling, produce gross receipts tax revenue and supplies would be purchased from local retailers.

Mast said both companies will try to hire local residents wherever possible.

He said the bidding process is likely to take a year, which will include community relations, permitting and regulatory compliance and detailed planning. He 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. Enercon will oversee the project, including community relations and regulatory and permitting matters, while DOSECC will conduct the actual drilling, Mast added.

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, said DOSECC’s president, Dennis Nielson.

Nielson said the first would be 8 1/2 inches wide. If successful, a second three-mile-deep borehole, 17 inches wide, would be drilled nearby.

According to the release, the DOE's goal is to evaluate whether deep boreholes might offer a safe and practical alternative to mined geologic repositories for smaller forms of nuclear waste.

“In closing, I want to recognize that anytime a community hears about a Federal government project involving the words 'nuclear waste,' questions and concerns understandably arise,” Orr said. “That’s why DOE has strengthened this project’s contract provisions to make completely clear that it will not involve the handling, treatment or disposition of any nuclear waste.”

Actual drilling, he said, is likely to begin in early 2018.


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