Otero County, NM, Rejected Borehole in May, Before Spink County

Over a month before Spink County officially went south on the Deep Borehole Field Test, the U.S. Department of Energy went south seeking an alternative site for their engineering experiment. An eager reader points me toward a May 27 article in the Alamogordo Daily News reporting that Otero County Commissioners resisted a USDOE pitch to dig one or two 5,000-meter deep holes in the southeastern part of the county.

The reporting is sloppy. The article headlines the project as a “radioactive waste plan” and says the project was “to dispose radioactive waste in Otero County.” DOE apparently provided the same assurances to Otero County that they did to Spink County that the Deep Borehole Field Test was only to test the borehole-drilling technology and not actually dispose waste on site, but neither the Otero County Commission nor the Alamogordo Daily News believed that.

“You don’t spend $24 million to drill a hole to say we’re not going to do it. They won’t do it in phase one but in phase two they will and we will become a nuclear waste dump in Otero County,” [Otero County Commissioner Ronny] Rardin said. “They say it won’t hurt the water, that’s bull. I don’t understand why we would even consider letting them go down there and do this. I just don’t see it” [Jacqueline Devine, “Otero County Not Supporting Radioactive Waste Plan,” Alamogordo Daily News, 2016.05.27].

The article also reports that DOE had ruled out the South Dakota site “because of the lack of county commission and state support in South Dakota.” That statement came two weeks before the Spink County Commission penned its official rejection of the Borehole project. That statement also gets state support flat wrong: Governor Dennis Daugaard and School of Mines president Heather Wilson (a product of New Mexico) both lobbied for the project.

According to the agenda item submitted by Commissioner Susan Flores for the Otero County Commission May 19 meeting, the Borehole project was to employ “approximately 20 scientists from Los Alamos… and 20 local hired from Otero County.” Those forty workers would be relocated to “a self-sustainable town” at “the Dugger place in SE Otero County.” Flores wrote that a company already had a lease on the Dugger property. That company appears not to be Battelle, the project lead in South Dakota, but TerranearPMC, a company with experience in disposing radioactive waste, munitions, and explosives. TerranearPMC contractor Ken Fillman was the contact with Otero County in May; he also participated in a USDOE public input meeting on consent-based siting in Washington, DC, on September 15, which is a central topic in the revised DOE Borehole project.

Otero County, whose residents saw the flash from the first nuclear explosion at the Trinity site just northwest of their county line, rejected being a backup site for the first Borehole proposal even before the USDOE had official word from Spink County that it would need a backup site.

But now Quay County, which expressed its support last week for two other companies’ bid to bring the borehole to New Mexico, is a couple hundred miles northeast of Otero County.

2 Responses to Otero County, NM, Rejected Borehole in May, Before Spink County

  1. Donald Pay

    Yeah, I skimmed that article a while back, and completely missed that it was referring to the deep borehole test. I’m used to standard journalistic practice that doesn’t bury the lede. There are so many of these project to bury radioactive waste floated in the west Texas and south and east New Mexico areas that it is hard to keep them all straight.

    So much of the coverage in New Mexico now is about the WIPP closure and the recent cave in that will end up closing large sections of the feds only radioactive waste dump. Still, it’s inexcusable that I didn’t pay closer attention to the Otero County article.

  2. Robert McTaggart

    Imagine that, consent-based processes are at work in both Otero County and Quay County.

    If your issue is groundwater, that effect can be measured. You don’t have to take anybody’s word on it, and you can even run an independent experiment.

    Use a radiotracer, as they do in agricultural research. First do some measurements to monitor the natural background levels. Take some water samples, do some radiochemistry to isolate the radiotracer. If you cannot distinguish the signal from the natural background, then you cannot say there is a pathway to said water source.

    The catch is really how long do you need to wait before collecting a sample. A hydrologist and/or a geologist could probably tell you.