You are here: Current Issue > Previous Issues > May 21, 2014 Issue > Ask Clio: I've heard that many years ago Colorado tried a special kind of "fracking" - using nuclear bombs to extract natural gas. What was that about? Did it work?
Ask Clio

Ask Clio: Ask Clio: I've heard that many years ago Colorado tried a special kind of "fracking" - using nuclear bombs to extract natural gas. What was that about? Did it work?

Ask Clio: I've heard that many years ago Colorado tried a special kind of "fracking" - using nuclear bombs to extract natural gas. What was that about? Did it work?

The Project Rulison Site Today

Clio's Answer: It's true! Colorado was nuked a few times.  It did work in terms of releasing the natural gas, but failed as a productive technology because the resulting gas was radioactive and thus too expensive to clean and market.

PNEs (Peaceful Nuclear Explosions) were part of the Project Plowshare program (government and industry program). The U.S. carried out 27 PNEs between 1961 and 1973: one in Carlsbad, Colorado, one in Grand Valley, Colorado, one in Rifle, Colorado, one in Farmington, New Mexico, and 23 at the National Test Site in Nevada. 

 Project Rulison

A picture of Project Rulison, one of the PNEs tested in Colorado.

Wherever nuclear weapons testing has occurred for whatever reasons there have been environmental problems. Radioactivity has leaked into the environment from underground nuclear tests, large areas of land are uninhabitable as a result of atmospheric and underground nuclear testing, and indigenous people, their children and their children's health and livelihoods have been affected by nuclear weapons tests.

This issue's question was provided by CU Denver History student Jarett Zuboy.  Thanks for your question, Jarett!

The Clio of this issue is Professor Greg Whitesides. For more on this topic, please email John.Whitesides@UCDenver.edu.

Do you have a question for Clio? Email Eleanore.Steinmetz@ucdenver.edu with your historical inquiries, and Clio may answer your question next!