On seismic testing, just the facts please

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Those of us who remain curious about the economic potential of onshore tight oil and gas in New Brunswick might as well face it: There is no perfectly safe way to develop an industry that pulls vast quantities of petroleum from the ground. There never has been, and there never will be.

The only thing that matters is identifying the level of risk we are prepared to assume in return for jobs, royalties and tax revenues. And to do this, we need facts. But where are they?

The news media is in its element when it covers controversy. Altercations and recriminations between shale gas protestors along Highway 126 and SWN Resources, which is undertaking exploration there, make headlines. Dispassionate examinations of the claims both for and against the technologies involved more often do not.

And so, we are left sifting through emotionally charged assertions for clues of validity. We are left, for example, parsing this statement from a local resident, whom the CBC quoted in a story the other day: “There’s lots of money in Alberta, but when people come home they don’t want to see this. The money is good, but the money isn’t everything. . .They still put charges of dynamite in the ground and they still blast them.”

He was referring to the practice of seismic testing, which, according to the website naturalgas.org, “artificially (creates) waves, the reflection of which are then picked up by sensitive pieces of equipment called ‘geophones’ that are embedded in the ground.” Essentially, the procedure takes a picture of what lies beneath.

The question, of course, is whether this citizen’s concerns about the potentially catastrophic effects of the process on the water table and broader environment  – which, not incidentally, mirror those of many others in the province – are justified.

Or is Marc Belliveau of the provincial Department of Energy and Mines closer to the truth? Yesterday, he told this newspaper, “There is, unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions of what seismic testing is and what it is not. . .It’s used in making highways, it’s used in finding water sources for municipalities. . .There was seismic testing carried out along more than 500 kilometres in New Brunswick two years ago. . .There were no issues.”

Still, that was then. What about now? Back in the stone age, when I briefly majored in Geology at university, seismic testing was breakthrough technology in the oil and gas industry. And, like all breakthrough technologies – which are, by their natures, intrusive – this one did cause “issues”.

Even today, the procedure can be problematic. Earlier this month, oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico agreed to forgo using the technology over concerns that it may harm marine life. According to a news report from KNOE.com, “Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Development Council says the (moratorium) will give the government and industry time for required environmental studies and research.”

That said, the best evidence suggests that seismic testing in New Brunswick is about as safe as can be expected given the province’s regulatory framework and SWN’s statement of exploration practice, which appears on its website.

“The vibroseis technique is only used on roadways and provides quality signals with minimal disturbance,” the company declares. “Seismic vibrator trucks are equipped with an underlying vibrating plate to generate specific sound signals. . .The strength of the signal from one seismic vibrator truck is very small; several trucks need to be activated simultaneously to create a signal strong enough to be recorded. These vehicles create noise levels similar to that made by a logging truck.”

When no roads are available, SWN says it deploys the “shot hole technique”. In these instances, the company clears “a maximum three metre-wide path for a drill vehicle in the woods. No vegetation larger than 15 centimeters in diameter is cut. The track-mounted drill vehicle drills a hole 15 metres deep. A small seismic source is placed at the bottom of the hole and is sealed with clay and drill cuttings per provincial regulations. When safely secured, the source is activated with specialized equipment. Afterwards, the area is restored to its original state.”

Whether or not this statement can allay public concern depends entirely on the degree to which one is willing to allow fact to triumph over fear.

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12 thoughts on “On seismic testing, just the facts please

  1. Neil Gardner says:

    The biggest problem is not the seismic testing which may have some negative ramifications, rather it is that is gas is found, the company has the automatic right to exploit it and frack the wells. If they are prevented from getting known gas reserves, they will have the right to sue the province (us) under breach of contract and likely NAFTA, Chapter 11

    Allowing the testing is like allowing a demand for race, gender, or religious affiliation on an application. The problem arises with the use of that data.

  2. John Russell says:

    Hello Bruce, I posted yesterday but I don’t see it, perhaps i didn’t pass muster? Well that is life, I can see by your picture that you are a serious fellow who takes his responsibilities seriously, and no doubt you also know who pays you, good for you…knowing reality, and our place in it is the first requirement for personal survival.

    About the `Shale gas` if the gas is depleted within a very few years, (as Engdahl says in the link I sent you yesterday), yet the `Fracking Fluids?` stay in the ground forever, is this not,yet again, short term gain, for a very few, yet long term future pain for the majority, and for the descendants of the few? everyone needs clean water, Can anyone guarantee how long the foreign elements, (Fracking Fluids) will stay sequestered from the water we depend on for our lives? The answer is; no they can’t! There is an element of hysteria surrounding this whole thing, almost a feeling that: If we don’t make these profits now, before the people really awaken,,, Why such hysteria? There is no shortage of Gas, there is a glut of Gas, who is paying for these wells? Is there, perhaps, something else in play here?

  3. brucescribe says:

    Must have been in oversight on my part, John. Anyway, you are here now.

  4. brucescribe says:

    Just found your first comment, John. It’s posted to the piece I wrote and published on June 23.

    • John Russell says:

      Just read the link Bruce and note; the usual suspects are doing the touting, New york state is taking a `wait and see` attitude, why can’t we? What is the rush really?

  5. Tina Beers says:

    It is because of fact, that I fear.
    I have photos of shot hole testing/blasting that has been done in Kent County at the head waters of the Richibucto River. I looked for setbacks to natural water sources in the regulations manual set forth by the government but found no information. We measured a shot hole blast at 127 feet from the bank of the river.
    I have photos of a drill truck that was stuck in a floating peat bog and had to be removed by an excavator, so much for the maximum 3 meter wide path. They made a real mess of the bog and a shot hole was drilled right in the middle of this floating bog. Is that legal?
    I have photos of trees cut larger that the 15cm diameter and many photos of the soil that SWN workers did not return back to the “original state”.
    The drill trucks crossed natural springs with no bridge in place and the bridge they did build was shoddy.
    If SWN cannot follow the rules for seismic testing, how can we trust them to extract.

    • John Russell says:

      Hello Tina, many people seem to know instinctively that `Fracking` is a mistake, yet they don’t know enough to know why they are against it, so they have few rational arguments against the well prepared, and paid, `Experts` who are being employed to `Sell` the idea that this will bring prosperity to New Brunswick. I think it won’t, I think they are selling environmental disaster The following anecdotes, taken from real life, which follow are just some of the things people should be informed of;

      http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-01/dont-get-carried-away-shale-oil-boom

      A greenie for you, bastard…..
      replyMon, 07/01/2013 – 21:40 | 3712247 Sparkey
      Vote up!1
      .Vote down!-5
      .No question in my mind, future generations, if there are any future generations, will curse this generation for the way we are poisoning the planet, Fukushima, DU, and now this, we can’t seem to poison the World fast enough.

      If you believe `Fracking Fluids?` will remain sequestered from the water, all living things require, for ever, you are easily led, to your and yours demise, 3 million gallons of water and `Fracking Fluids?` are often mentioned as the typical amount of `Fracking Fluid` injected into the rock to release the gas, 3 million gallons doesn’t seem so much when you say it quickly, yet how much space does 3 million gallons of water occupy? There are 7.5 Gal, per cubic foot of liquids, this equals 400 thousand cubic feet of non compressible matter injected into the ground at a high enough pressure to move the rocks and create a space large enough for it to fit into, now this is far down under the ground and all the millions of pounds of rock above it are pressing down trying to close the gap and return to normal, liquid will flow towards the surface, towards the surface is the path of least resistance, through every crack and fissure, some day it will reach the Water Table, perhaps some day it will reach the surface, for sure it will never go away and the water will be unusable to people and animals virtually for ever.

      How crazy are we really, that we would poison our very source of sustenance, and poison ourselves, so enthralled are we by the Pied Piper and his song of `Easy wealth`.which always ends with depleted wells and poisoned ground.

      How big is 400 thousand cubic feet? Imagine you had a square building 80ft. on a side it would reach to 62.5ft in height to accomodate 3 million gallons of liquid!

      An unanswerable question; Why is our species charging to the cliff so anxious for aniliation? Is there nothing good in life that we might want to perserve at least the possibility of existence for our decedents?

      My final expert for to-day, Mr. Engdahl, and remember; if there is gas in the ground, it will be gone in ten years or less, our Aquifer will be poisoned for ever! {read what Sparkey says above}, We have been {Led down the garden path} many times before, here in New Brunswick, let,s fight this time, let us do it for the Children! this is wrong, wrong, wrong for many reasons, and obviously can never deliver the results we are being promised!

      http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/03/13/the-fracked-up-usa-shale-gas-bubble/

  6. brucescribe says:

    Oh, you folks are going to love my column tomorrow.

    • John Russell says:

      Thanks Bruce, let,s see if we can’t save the people from the madness of the age, it is insane to jeopardize the the very stuff of life for such a potentially meager reward, yet the potential for harm caused by this activity, essentially, lingers for eternity, Do it for the children, if Fracking isn’t good enough for New York State, we should at least take a bit more of a`Wait and see` stance, Let us see if we can’t have a good political debate from now until the next election! There is already a hysteria brewing, lively open debate will drain the emotional energy from that, people are afraid they will be forced to accept having their wells poisoned, as they feel has happened to others, no matter what the proponents say to the contrary, personally, I believe many people have been severely damaged, physically, emotionally, and financially because fate caught them up in the Fracking, easy money, hysteria. If we are looking for value, clean land and water will be valuable in the near future!

    • John Russell says:

      Bruce, I may not “like” tomorrow’s column but I do appreciate you letting me communicate with you, thank you

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