The United States Department of Energy and Ohio-based engineering contractor Battelle have abandoned their plan to carry out the Deep Borehole Field Test in Spink County:
In a letter recently sent to the Spink County Commission, Battelle and the Department of Energy wrote that while they appreciated the opportunity to engage people in the region, they will not proceed with a plan that would have involved drilling a hole 3 miles deep into granite rock formations in the county. The borehole test would have been used to see whether such a procedure could be used to dispose of radio active waste or to develop geothermal energy. The drilling would have amounted to a dry run and would not have have involved any radioactive waste, officials said [Shannon Marvel, “Battelle, Feds Scrap Spink County Borehole Plan,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.06.21].
This news comes less than two weeks after the Spink County Commission sent a letter to Battelle saying that, given what they perceived as nearly universal local opposition, the commission would not approve the Borehole. Locals based their opposition largely on the fear that the feds, Battelle, state officials, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology were all lying to them when they said this nifty engineering project would not bring nuclear waste to Spink County, as well as concerns that something could go wrong in the drilling, as it did in the failed private oil exploration project in Wasta, and do permanent damage to local aquifers.
At every point, Borehole project officials said that if the public didn’t want the Borehole in their backyard, they’d go elsewhere. Spink County residents said they didn’t want the Borehole. The Department of Energy and Battelle are taking the Borehole elsewhere, just as they did when Pierce County residents in North Dakota, the first site chosen for the Borehole, said no, thanks to the project.
We might consider the Borehole loss (Spink County activists can make a fair argument for substituting the word win) the second big indictment this month of Governor Dennis Daugaard’s political capital. He advocated the Borehole as a safe and routine research opportunity. He personally contacted Spink County commissioners. Yet local elected Republican Rep. Lana Greenfield publicly declared her mistrust of the Governor, and none of the Daugaardian economic development boosterism that should have kicked in around a project promising millions in economic activity and dozens of jobs got traction. A county that voted for Daugaard in the 2014 primary and general elections a percentage point or two more strongly than the rest of the state and whose current voter registration is just a tick more Republican than the statewide average wouldn’t take Republican Governor Daugaard’s word that the Borehole would be good for Spink County and for South Dakota. Add this rebuke to his inability to exert decisive influence in his party primaries, plus his continued dithering on calling a Special Session to whip his caucus into shape on Medicaid expansion, and you get a picture of a governor who doesn’t know how to translate the biggest gubernatorial election margin in South Dakota history into an imperial governorship that enacts a sweeping vision and agenda.
Opposition in Spink County and on this blog seized on suspicions advanced on this blog three years ago that the Daugaard Administration brought the nuke-connected Heather Wilson here from New Mexico to run the School of Mines as part of a secret plan to bring nuclear waste to South Dakota. I would think that if the Borehole were part of such a long-standing plan, if the Governor had intervened in a Board of Regents hiring decision just to put one player in place to secure a nuclear waste dump, he’d have twisted arms harder to get what he wanted in Spink County.
The relatively swift deflection of the Deep Borehole Field Test from Spink County might suggest a weak Governor… or it might suggest the Governor has bigger fish to fry or other places to fry them. But if we don’t dig for conspiracies, the Department of Energy and Battelle seem to be saying we can take the government at its word: they expressed commitment to consent-based siting, Spink County didn’t consent, and the Borehole isn’t coming to Spink County.