Company, residents discuss possible survey project
December 6, 2010
As Leroy Lee exited a meeting Saturday in the conference room at the Holiday Inn of Craig, he shared a candid assessment with a small group of people assembled outside the door.
"I survived," Lee said. "But, I need to go put a Band-Aid on my butt."
Lee, a geophysical consultant for Gulfport Energy Corporation, was speaking of the question-and-answer session he and two representatives from Geokinetics, Inc., hosted.
Geokinetics is a Texas-based company that conducts geological surveys via seismic sounding. In October, the company was commissioned by Oklahoma-based Gulfport Energy to provide a survey of the subsurface of Craig and parts of Moffat County.
The prospective survey area is 53 square miles. The project is estimated to last three months. The precise start date is unknown, but it is anticipated to begin in January and finish in March.
The completed survey will indicate likely locations for hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas.
To conduct the survey, Geokinetics plans to use "thumpers" and seismic sensors, project manager Brent Jacobsen said.
A thumper is a large diesel truck with a heavy weight attached to its frame via a hydraulic lift.
By lowering the weight onto the ground, the thumpers create vibrations for the seismic sensors to record.
Geokinetics then analyzes the sensor data to render a three-dimensional illustration of the underlying geologic strata.
To create a complete and accurate image, the thumpers must drive across the entire survey area in parallel lines — spaced 880 feet apart.
Intersecting the trucks' paths are another set of parallel lines — the sensors.
The sensors are stake-like devices that are driven into the ground and connected by cable.
On a map provided by Geokinetics, the lines of truck paths intersect with the lines of sensor locations and resemble a diamond-shaped grid.
Many of those lines cross private property.
Geokinetics is seeking permission from landowners to set up sensors and drive trucks across private property. In return, the company is offering landowners $5 per acre for their cooperation.
Jacobsen said Geokinetics is in the process of mailing out permission requests to those residents.
The Saturday question-and-answer session was set up to address landowner concerns.
More than 50 Craig and Moffat County residents attended.
Their concerns ranged from the potential for damage to property or the environment, and to express dissatisfaction over a perceived lack of public information from Geokinetics.
Several residents asked if thumping could cause damage to structures such as foundations or wells.
Jacobsen said the vibrations would be minimal.
"If you're standing right next to these machines, you can probably feel it," Jacobsen said of the thumpers. "But, if you walk 20 feet away, you won't feel a thing."
Jacobsen added that any damage, however unlikely, would be repaired at Geokinetics' expense.
Some residents expressed concern that livestock might be upset by the vehicles.
Lee said the trucks' presence at each location would be fleeting.
"The whole process is going to take less than three minutes, and then we're going to move 300 feet away," he said.
Jacobsen added that it's uncertain whether thumping would take place within city limits.
"People are concerned about us vibrating in the city," Jacobsen said. "The (Craig) City Council and the mayor will have the ultimate decision as to whether that can happen or not.
"My advice would be, when we go to the city council, when we present our case and bring the experts in there, I would encourage the people to attend and voice their opinion."
Jacobsen said Geokinetics employees will do their best to respect landowners' wishes when placing seismic sensors on private property.
He added that although Geokinetics' current map of the area shows the sensors arranged in straight lines, the survey allows for some leeway to run cables around homes, fences, or other obstacles.
"They would be wherever you allow us to put them," Jacobsen said. "We're able to move them around."
Jacobsen said the cables and sensors would be in place for about two weeks, then they would be removed and taken to a different location within the survey area.
To minimize damage in rural areas, Jacobsen said Geokinetics employees would travel on foot, and their equipment and supplies would be dropped from helicopters rather than driven in off-road vehicles.
"We will drop cables every quarter-mile," Jacobsen said.
Craig resident Kerrie Clarke said she wasn't concerned about the survey, but rather the possible hydrocarbon extraction that would follow.
"The survey is relatively harmless, but I think people need to understand what comes next because that's where the real damage lies," Clarke said.
Of particular concern to Clarke was the possibility that Gulfport would use the technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas.
Fracking, Clarke said, has contaminated groundwater in Logan Mountain and Fort Lupton.
"I don't think people realize what fracking is and what it involves," Clake said. "What condition is Moffat County going to be in when you've taken everything you want and you've left?"
Jacobsen said Geokinetics wouldn't be involved in any extraction plans.
"We're doing a simple seismic survey," he said.
Lee said he doubted Gulfport would have any interest in extracting natural gas in the short term.
"Natural gas is what, $5 (per million BTU) right now? They're going for petroleum," Lee said.
Other residents had concerns about drilling within city limits or the possibility of derelict rigs being left behind once drilling was completed.
Lee's response to site concerns was concise.
"They're not going to drill in the city," he said.
Lee added that economic concerns would prevent abandoned structures.
"They're not going to leave it there because they can use it somewhere else," Lee said of rigs. "They're not going to leave an asset that's not being utilized."
Local resident Zach Hendershott said any discussions on possible environmental impacts were beyond the scope of the meeting.
"As I understand it, you would like to drill, you don't know where or if you can drill, and the whole purpose of this (survey) is to determine that," Hendershott asked.
"Exactly," he said. "Maybe there's nothing here."
Leases and permissions
Jacobsen said Gulfport Energy owns mineral leases for about one-third of the survey area.
As to the remaining leaseholders, Jacobsen said Geokinetics was looking into it.
"We're researching now, but it seems like — going back to the original homesteader town of Craig — most of the landowners have their minerals," he said. "I don't believe much is leased in there."
Jacobsen was asked what would happen if individual landowners refused to give Geokinetics permission to place sensors.
Jacobsen said it depended on the holder of the mineral lease.
"If whoever owns those minerals wants them explored, they could force the issue and still be able to come across the property," he said.
Clarke asked for clarification.
"Even if someone else owns the surface rights, the mineral rights override them?" she asked.
Jacobsen said yes.
A resident asked Jacobsen why the permission forms asked for landowners' social security numbers.
Jacobsen said it had to do with Geokinetics' payments to landowners, but the information wasn't required of everyone.
"If we're paying you more than $600, we need your social security number," he said.
Jacobsen said permissions may impact the starting time of the project.
"We'd have to have a solid 60 percent of the job in the area before we can start," he said.
Several residents said they were concerned that Geokinetics didn't first approach the town through city or county government.
Geokinetics permitting agent Ginger McKay said she has met with the Moffat County Commission.
"We've met with all the commissioners three separate times, but not in an open meeting," she said.
City councilor Terry Carwile, who was out of town during the meeting, said Geokinetics has kept the council out of the loop.
"It's taken me by surprise," Carwile said. "There hasn't been any preliminary sorts of information out there for council people or staff.
"All we've heard, to my knowledge, is these folks want to come in and use geophones and thumping and that kind of stuff to see if there's oil underneath the city limits."
Carwile said he was unsure why Geokinetics hasn't been in touch with the council.
"I don't know," he said. "It seems like a significant oversight on their part to jump directly to requesting permission from property owners.
"I encourage them to get on the city council agenda as quickly as possible, hopefully the next meeting."