50 years ago, nuclear blasting for gas boomed. Today it’s a bust. | Science News

50 Years Ago

50 years ago, nuclear blasting for gas boomed. Today it’s a bust.

Excerpt from the December 17, 1966, issue of Science News

1:12pm, November 25, 2016
Gasbuggy device

NUCLEAR FRACKING  In 1967, scientists lowered a 29-kiloton nuclear device deep underground, then detonated it at a depth of 4,240 feet. The explosion was intended to stimulate production of natural gas, as part of Project Gasbuggy.

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Atom blast for gas

A pair of simultaneous nuclear explosions, one more than 1.6 miles underground and the other 1,000 feet above it, have been proposed as a way to extract huge quantities of natural gas from subterranean rock. Each blast would be … about 2.5 times the size of the bomb used at Hiroshima. By breaking up tight gas-bearing rock formations, a flow of presently inaccessible gas may be made available.… A single-blast experiment, called Project Gasbuggy, is already planned. — Science News, December 17, 1966


On December 10, 1967, Project Gasbuggy went ahead, with a 29-kiloton nuclear explosion deep underground in northwestern New Mexico. The blast released natural gas, but the gas was radio­active. The area is still regularly monitored for radioactive contamination. Today, natural gas trapped below Earth’s surface is often extracted via fracking, which breaks up rock using pressurized fluid (SN: 9/8/12, p. 20). Though less extreme, potential links to drinking water contamination and earthquakes have stoked fears about the technique.


Atom blasts for gas. Science News. Vol. 90, December 17, 1966, p. 513.

Further Reading

T. Sumner. Quake risk in parts of central U.S. as high as in fault-filled California. Science News. Vol. 189, April 30, 2016, p. 20.

S. Schwartz. Surface spills near fracking sites implicated in water contamination. Science News Online, October 12, 2015.

B. Mole. Fracking chemicals can alter mouse development. Science News Online, March 30, 2015.

R. Ehrenberg. The facts behind the frack. Science News. Vol. 182, September 8, 2012, p. 20

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