--> --> Atomic Fracking in Wyoming: The Story of Project Wagon Wheel

AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting

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Atomic Fracking in Wyoming: The Story of Project Wagon Wheel


The United States Government created the Plowshare Program at the end of World War II to develop ways to use the newly discovered nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Projects were designed for “geographical engineering” or “earthmoving” using the unprecedented energy source. These projects, of course, would require the development of a “clean bomb.” The question 45 Wyoming Geological Association – September 15-18, 2019 became, “is that possible?” Testing for Plowshare Projects was conducted exclusively in the West, mostly in Nevada. Of particular interest to Wyoming were the projects designed to use nuclear detonation for energy mining, or “fracking.” It was well known that natural gas lay in large pools below the earth’s surface, often locked in hard rock. Traditional attempts to mine this gas with hydraulic fracturing failed. The Plowshare scientists, therefore, looked to this geographic challenge for another nuclear project. Four sites in the West, one in New Mexico, two in Colorado, and one in Sublette County, Wyoming, were chosen to test nuclear devises for natural gas mining. Three of the sites were tested, but the one in Wyoming was stopped. Why didn’t the Wyoming test take place? This project, dubbed the Wagon Wheel, didn’t occur because the project ultimately wasn’t funded. A deeper look at the story, though, credits the incredible coming together of the Sublette County communities to stop it. This is the story of Asay’s film, which focuses on the people of Sublette County, dubbed by the Atomic Energy Commission as an “insignificant population count,” who took on the United Government, and won.