Research project on nuclear waste disposal eyes Pecos County

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PECOS COUNTY -- A company based out of Austin is hoping to conduct a drilling project in Pecos County that would ultimately determine if the area is able to sustain a high-level nuclear waste disposal site.

It’s a theory that’s said to have been around for decades, but has never been tested -- it’s called Deep Borehole Drilling.

Now four companies, including AECOM are hoping to change that and be the first to conduct a research test in about a year.

AECOM is competing against three other companies to win the rights to drill the borehole through the Department of Energy (DOE).

“The DOE said we want to do this research somewhere in the United States that had these granite rock formations within a mile or two of the surface and there’s an ideal location in Pecos County,” said Chuck McDonald, a consultant hired by AECOM to run the P.R. Effort.

But there’s a catch, in order to move forward with the project the DOE wants to make sure the community and surrounding areas are in favor.

Here’s how the theory works: First a three-mile deep hole into the earth’s surface would be drilled until it hits a solid rock formation.

Then, another hole would be drilled into that solid rock formation where ideally they would place test canisters filled with dirt inside.

“This is a research designed to see, hey, could this be another way to do disposal of radioactive waste? So it is about radioactive waste, but there’s no radioactive material involved,” said McDonald.

McDonald says the actual research project itself would take at least five years to conduct and would cost anywhere from $20-$40 million.

Researchers would also explore the potential development of geothermal energy.

McDonald will be in Fort Stockton on January 3rd to begin reaching out to the community and over the span of six months will be hosting town hall meetings throughout the region.

“We think it’s a natural place to try and see if this kind of technology would be appropriate, would be safe, [and] would be environmentally appropriate,” McDonald said.

If the community approves, the proposed site would take place on University Lands.

McDonald says The University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology would be conducting the research.

“If we’re going into a research project and The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology says even doing this type of drilling into this formation is problematic, then we’re going to stop the project, because there’s no reason to do that,” McDonald explained. “That’s why there’s a huge research component.”