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October 29, 2012

Shale Boom, Part 2: Seismic testing going on in county

NEW CASTLE — A Texas-based seismic testing company is making a blueprint of underground rock to better prepare companies for shale drilling.

Discovery Acquisition Services of Muldoon, Texas, has been in Lawrence County for a few months mapping out underground rock formations over 380 square miles on more than 30,000 tracts of land.

Most of it is on private property, but some is also along local and state right-of-ways.

“The lion’s share of that work is in Lawrence County,” explained Josh Baird, ADS project manager, and it extends into parts of Mercer and Butler counties and Mahoning County in Ohio.

“We’re doing seismic testing, which is mapping the subsurface of the rock showing length, width and depth. We map the rock layers from 3,000 feet to about 16,000 feet underground,” and inside of it are the  Marcellus and Utica shales.

His company’s tests tell drilling companies the different depths of rock underground, so that when they drill vertically they can turn the drill bit horizontally and can see the rock formations that go up and down in different elevations, Baird explained.

Then when gas company workers drill down, they know how to angle the drill bits to stay inside the rock formation to produce the most oil and gas in that well, he continued, adding, “It also makes it so much safer to have the mapping. It’s a much safer drilling process.”

The seismic testing involves drilling a hole and exploding a charge underground, which generates shock waves that are measured by a monitoring instrument, and in turn, gives information about the rock structure underground.

Baird said his company has gotten permission from landowners to go onto their properties by asking them to sign one-page documents. Seismic testing is done only on properties where landowners give their permission, he said.

But at least two landowners in New Beaver Borough and in Little Beaver Township beg to differ.

New Beaver farmer Jim Yost and Little Beaver landowner Jordan Henderson have not signed agreements and say they have had to tell ADS workers to leave their properties.

Henderson said he has concerns about shock waves.

“They don’t control the levels of depth in the ground where shock waves go. In rural areas, most people have water wells. The question is, will a lot of these charges damage the layer of the water table from where we get our water?”

Henderson pointed out that the agreements DAS is asking people to sign asks them to indemnify them from any problems.

“If your well is damaged, it is your responsibility to prove it was their fault,” Henderson said. “If you hold them harmless, then you have no recourse to get your well remedied.”

He said the company is only offering to pay about $5 per acre for its work. Yet the landowner actually owns the ground underneath them and any data would belong to the landowner, he contends.

While some landowners are signing, others are resisting because there are inherent risks, Henderson said.

As a result, DAS is approaching the municipal officials, asking to do their testing along the edges of the roads, he explained.

Yost claims he’s been fighting a continued battle with the DAS workers, claiming they trespass on his fields, and he did not sign a permission paper, either.

“I got the state police to chase them off my property,” he said, adding that on Saturday, he was following one of the ADS trucks off the site and his truck accidentally hit it.

The state police charged Yost with criminal mischief for that incident, alleging that he had a verbal dispute with DAS workers over property right-of-ways and intentionally drove his truck into the DAS truck.

“Almost daily I’ve had to chase them off my fields,” Yost said, adding that the collision for which he was cited was an accident.

“We weren’t on his property,” Baird countered, adding that rather, DAS was on adjacent property where it has permission to test.

The company has tried to get Yost to sign a permission form, but “he was not interested and we were fine with that,” Baird added.

(Email:dwachter @ncnewsonline.com.)

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