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By BURTON SPEAKMAN | firstname.lastname@example.org
Driving along Mahoning Valley roads, it’s becoming easier to find unusual sights — large trucks that shake the ground, orange cords that seemingly go on forever and crews that certainly aren’t farmers working in fields.
All are part of the seismic process occurring throughout the area as companies prepare to drill for oil and natural gas.
Seismic testing is kind of like taking an ultrasound of the Earth, said Joseph A. Stanislaw, founder of the advisory firm The JAStanislaw Group LLC. He has decades of experience in the oil and gas industry and sits on the board of directors for several energy companies.
“Vibrations are sent underground and the machines register the waves that return. Some of the sound waves return each time they hit a new layer of rock while others keep going,” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it's pretty accurate.”
Much of the seismic testing in the past has been done in the West or in more rural areas without a lot of population, Stanislaw said. Companies would often cut down trees and use explosive charges buried underground to create the necessary vibrations for seismic readings.
“You can’t really do that in the cities or the suburbs,” he said. “Seismic testing can be done now without the explosions.”
The controlled underground explosion method is still the most common method used, said Peter MacKenzie, owner of MacKenzie Land & Exploration, Ltd.
Locally there have been some issues with leaseholders about seismic testing.
Several landowners in Columbiana County sued TGS NOPEC Geophysical Co. of Houston about its intention to use underground explosives to conduct seismic testing.
One argument made in court was that TGS could use the trucks to conduct the tests, but TGS argued that plots of land were too large for the trucks to provide the proper amount of information. The company is still involved in lawsuits with multiple Columbiana County landowners.
Typically seismic trucks will have a law-enforcement vehicle guiding them along their route, and several seismic trucks work in tandem, he said.
“By working together, you’re able to cut down some of the noise that will come from outside sources,” Stanislaw said. “You’re able to get a clearer picture.”
Two companies that have recently been doing seismic testing in Mahoning or Trumbull counties using trucks are Precision Geophysical of Millersburg, Ohio, and Tideland Geophysical of Plano, Texas.
The vibration caused by the trucks does not do any damage to the roadway, said Steve Faulkner, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Transportation, which permits the use of seismic trucks on state roadways.
“These are new to some parts of the state, but in others they’ve been around for some time,” he said.
The companies apply for a permit stating the road and location where they intend to conduct the testing and the time period when the work will occur, Faulkner said.
Property owners along state routes are notified the trucks will be used, he said.
“The trucks have been in Ohio for more than 20 years,” MacKenzie said. “I did miles of seismic in Ashtabula County in the 1980s.”
The orange cords that have been visible along the roads recently in the Mahoning Valley are an important part of the testing process, he said. They hold the computers that record readings and have small bell-shaped devices attached to spikes in the ground that record the sound waves.
“They’re very sensitive. You couldn’t pick one up without it shaking because it would pick up your heartbeat. The machines can pick up a lawnmower running nearby,” MacKenzie said.
There is also typically work in a truck nearby, where the findings are read, he said.
The best thing companies could do is put out more information explaining the process of what they are doing, Stanislaw said. The public always has questions when they are not familiar with the equipment or not informed about what is occurring.
“Typically these companies conduct seismic testing in grids,” he said.
The grids are often quite substantial so the testing will go on for some time, Stanislaw said.