Project Rulison: A broken promise to western Colorado | VailDaily.com

Project Rulison: A broken promise to western Colorado

Kyle Mills, Rifle Citizen Telegram
Battlement Mesa and Parachute residents gather in a meeting room at the Grand Valley Recreational Center for a panel discussion remembering Project Rulison 50 years later. Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

A bit of oft-forgotten history was commemorated earlier this week in the small Western Colorado town of Battlement Mesa.

Many residents of the Western Slope are either too young or didn’t reside in the state 50 years ago when a nuclear gas stimulation technology test occurred in Rulison between Rifle and Parachute.

Project Plowshare was a United States lead program for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for construction purposes. As part of the program, 31 nuclear warheads were detonated in 27 separate tests.

One of those tests occurred when a 40-kiloton (more than twice the size of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima) atomic explosive device detonated 8,400 feet below the surface 8 miles from Parachute.

With more than 60 people crowded into a room in the Grand Valley Recreational Center four members of the protest to stop Project Rulison reminisce about the day a half a century ago when the bomb detonated in the small rural Colorado town.

Chester McQueary, activist and former long time resident of Rulison was one of the 11 of 28 protesters that were on site hoping to stop the bomb from detonated in the fall of 1969.

Through many protests leading up to the test, McQueary said that they were promised by officials that they wouldn’t detonate to device if people were present on the site, but it went off anyway as he and the small group were scattered across the hillside waiting for the blast to occur.

“Why do we do this? … We think it is an important marker in Colorado History,” McQueary said.

“We must remember, though, this was a singular event, the atomic energy commission and its corporate partners were not thinking small scale, this was a test.”

McQueary said at the time officials had openly said if the test were successful they would set off up to a hundred in the twenty miles stretch between Parachute and Rifle to fully develop the Rulison gas field.

Although the test succeeded in freeing large amounts of natural gas, the gas had been contaminated and deemed unusable for public application.

To this day the site remains under active monitoring by the Department of Energy, with regular tests for radioactivity, making sure they are at an acceptable level and visitors can freely pass by the site along County Road 302 on the way to recreation on Haystack Mountain.

kmills@postindependent.com