KOTA-TV reports that more than 60 people attended the Haakon County Commission meeting in Philip yesterday to hear about the proposed Deep Borehole Field Test. The commission took no action but said it will hold more public meetings on the proposal to drill one or two three-mile-deep holes under Haakon County to test both drilling technology and the suitability of deep bedrock for disposing of nuclear waste.
Haakon County landowner M.R. Hansen brought the project to the commission’s attention in September, when he let them know Ohio-based Battelle, Rapid City-based RESPEC, and the School of Mines were talking with him about acquiring his land for the project. Hansen told KOTA yesterday, “There is only benefit for us in terms of learning something, science and engineering—STEM education….” He has also told the commission that there’s financial benefit: a million dollars in local business revenue (engineers buying sandwiches) and ten million dollars statewide. But come now: there is always risk, like the possibility that the drill could get stuck halfway down and the drillers wouldn’t put up a large enough bond to cover the cost of plugging the hole.
Jen Jones sees risk. I’m willing to assume that her comments to the commission were more detailed, given the hefty sheaf of papers in her hand. But she gave KOTA this vague indictment of the project: “I am in favor of the science of this; however, if we open up this door to finding out the science of digging that deep into the ground, what else are we opening up the door to?”
Let’s be specific: the one thing to which opponents of this project don’t want our door opened is nuclear waste. Battelle, Mines experts, the U.S. Department of Energy, and everybody else associated with this project has repeated that the boreholes involved in this project will not be used for nuclear waste, but nobody trusts anybody anymore, so an engineering project to investigate how to more safely and permanently dispose of existing nuclear waste becomes a no-nukes rallying point.
This research could as easily close doors as open them. Start drilling in Haakon County, and Battelle and RESPEC could find out the bedrock is too tough, too fractured, or too shifty to drill the perfectly straight holes necessary for depositing waste canisters three miles deep.
Governor Daugaard continues to support the Deep Borehole Field Test. He didn’t drive to Philip (he was busy yesterday drilling holes in IM22), but last week he told KOTA that he views the Borehole as “a natural extension of South Dakota’s leadership” in underground scientific research. (Sorry—I can’t help but think that Trumpism may drive all honest scientific research underground.)
KOTA reports that Battelle and Respec are competing with at least four other borehole bids. Batelle was also considering a site in Alabama, but the Newton Town Council rejected their overtures (for the borehole, are they undertures?) based on concerns about contaminating the Choctawhatchee River and groundwater and unease with something less than openness from Battelle:
The measure said, “there has been a veil of secrecy created by Battelle with the experiment” and that the company refuses to reveal which government officials provided letters of support because it is considered part of “proprietary” information. The motion also states, “This smacks of covert political behavior and undermines the transparency the Battelle officials have promised” [Jan Murray, “No Support from Newton on Nuclear Waste Experiment,” Southeast Sun, 2016.11.02].