The peaceful use of atomic weapons… seems like a contradiction if there ever was one.
Following a recent Trump Tweet which made “disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the symbolic Doomsday Clock two-and-a-half minutes closer to midnight (the nearest it’s been since the Cold War).
Once upon a time, though, scientists were less worried about impending doom and more curious about practical applications of nukes’ awesome power.
The program dubbed Operation Plowshare ran from 1961 to 1977 and explored nuclear applications for use in large scale excavation, creating artificial harbors and canals, and stimulating production in tight-oil formations.
Using explosives to improve the release of oil and gas was nothing new at the time. Employing methods such as gunpowder, dynamite, and fluid injection to stimulate wells was already prevalent.
But using nukes, it was thought, would simply give a bigger and more cost-effective bang.
Below are details of three tests which evaluated using nukes to stimulate natural gas wells, or in other terms, the use of “nuclear fracking.”
For reference, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in World War II had a yield of roughly 15 kilotons.
- Date – December 10, 1967
- Location – Farmington, New Mexico
- Depth – 4,240 feet
- Geography – Gas bearing sandstone
- Yield – 29 kilotons
According to historian Wade Nelson, “The blast created an underground cavern approximately 160 feet in diameter by 333 feet tall.”
“Imagine putting an oversized football field on a stick like a popsicle, pushing it 3,800 feet down into solid rock, and twirling it,” he added.
It was predicted the cavity (lined with molten glass following the explosion) would fill with and then store massive amounts of gas. The cavity buckled, however, and all the produced gas was flared into the atmosphere.