Borehole project surfaces in South Dakota (May 2016)

North Dakota residents turned out in February to protest a proposed borehole project. Wells County Commissioner Mary Hager had many questions about a proposed borehole-nuclear waste disposal project at a meeting sponsored by the Pierce County Commission. Also pictured is Dave Migler, chairman of the Pierce County Commission.
The potential for a deep borehole project to learn how to drill basement rock for nuclear waste storage has rolled down the prairie from Rugby to Redfield, S.D.

A $35 million Department of Energy project awarded to the Ohio-based Battelle Institute was denied in Pierce County two months ago, and researchers are now aiming to find a site in Spink County, which is about 75 miles south of Ellendale.

As proposed in Pierce County, the plan is to drill more than 3 miles deep into crystalline rock to learn about the stability of the rock for nuclear storage and the technique for grinding that deep.

Again, the plan is running into some stiff opposition. One opponent is a former South Dakota governor, Harvey Wollman, a resident of Spink County.

Wollman said there are better locations for such experiments than in a populated, agrarian countryside, where the aquifers and shallow artesian waters are so vital.

“North Dakota sent them on their way; we’d be happy to do the same thing,” he said. “I told them that if they want to divide communities and divide families and divide churches, keep it up, this will do it. We’ve had pig feedlot issues here that divided people so much they won’t sit in the same pew in church anymore,” Wollman said.

Battelle and DOE held two public meetings in late April and will hold a third one at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the 4-H building in Redfield. So far, there has been no formal zoning application for a change in land use, said Spink County land use administrator Tim Reinbold.

An opposition group has put up a Facebook page Citizens United for a Non-Nuclear South Dakota for information and discussion.

“We are going to go to war on this, with public relations and verbally,” Wollman said.

In South Dakota’s case, the technology partners would be the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and RESPEC, a geologic research company. Schlumberger, an oil field services company, would be the driller.

Battelle spokesman Rod Osborne said the Spink County location was identified by the School of Mines as a good place for geologic research, but no lease has yet been signed with any landowner.

He said the first order of business is getting to the communities early and talking with people who have urgent concerns. He said a number of project team members will be at Wednesday’s meeting to provide information, take questions and visit on a one-to-one basis.

He said the hope is that drilling could start this year. The DOE has another $50 million available for a second, wider borehole if all goes well with the first test.

Both DOE and Battelle have emphasized that the project will not result in any nuclear storage, only geologic knowledge.

Erin Schroeder, who farms in the vicinity, said she, like others, doesn’t believe the project will stop with drilling and nuclear storage would follow.

“We don’t want to open the door to anything like this. We are sincerely worried. This is the Heartland — we raise America’s food. I don’t see why, if they have to find a place, it has to be here,” Schroeder said.

LAUREN DONOVAN Bismarck Tribune, 10 May 2016, as posted at

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