The identity of the oil and gas company that hired a Texas firm to do seismic mapping in Marietta Monday may remain a mystery, but data gathered during that exercise is apparently very valuable.
"This information is worth millions to these companies," according to Ben Blalock, project manager for Nicholson Land Services of Tyler, Texas.
Nicholson contracts with Tidelands Geological Company (TGC) of Plano, Texas, which provides and operates the seismic mapping "vibroseis" trucks and other equipment used in the process. The company is the one that applied for a permit with the city to do the testing.
Blalock said there are several large companies currently exploring for oil- and gas-rich Marcellus and Utica shale deposits thought to be located deep beneath Ohio's surface.
"We don't know which company is using the information we obtain, but it should be pretty obvious that there's only about a half dozen oil and gas companies who are doing this exploration," he said.
On Monday a convoy of five TGC vibroseis trucks moved slowly along Third Street and Muskingum Drive, stopping at regular intervals to lower large vibrating metal disks from each truck onto the road surface.
About the testing
- Nicholson Land Services of Tyler, Texas, obtained the city permit that allowed Tidelands Geological Company (TGC) of Plano, Texas, to perform seismic mapping in Marietta Monday.
- TGC's "vibroseis" vehicles traveled along Third Street and Muskingum Drive, generating seismic waves to help create a 2-dimensional map of underground structures below the road surface.
- The mapping is used by companies to locate oil- and gas-rich Utica and Marcellus shale beds below the earth's surface.
- Nicholson Land Services contracts with TGC to provide permitting and other services that allows the geological company to perform seismic mapping and testing.
Source: Times research.
Seismic vibrations from the disks are recorded through special cables laid alongside the roadway. The data is used to develop 2-dimensional "maps" of structures that lie directly beneath the road surface.
Blalock explained that if a client sees something of interest from the 2-D data, the company may request 3-D mapping that provides additional information about what's underground on either side of the roadway.
"Essentially 2-D is just a road map telling us what's going on directly beneath the road," he said.
If 3-D mapping is requested by a company, Blalock said it would be done outside the city limits. He noted there's little reason to do 3-D mapping in town because companies are not likely to be interested in horizontal drilling for oil and gas under a city.
Blalock said obtaining the mineral rights from thousands of city property owners would not be cost efficient.
So why did TGC perform seismic mapping inside the Marietta city limits on Monday?
"Think of what we do as reading a book," Blalock explained. "We went through town because we're telling our client a story and it wouldn't make sense to leave out some of the pages. This is like a 1,000-page book, and Marietta represents about 50 of those pages."
He said Monday's work is part of about 750 miles of seismic mapping TGC is currently doing in this area of Ohio.
"We're covering a lot of ground-all the way to Painesville," Blalock added.
Seismic information gathered will help oil and gas companies pinpoint potential locations for hydraulic drilling of shale beds, where they may want to lease property and set up operations.
Blalock said after seismic mapping is completed in an area and if shale beds are found it may be at least a year or more before oil and gas company operations move in.
Vibrations from Monday morning's seismic mapping may have caused a sewage pipe to break and damage hundreds of files stored in a ground floor room at the new Marietta Municipal Court facilities on the corner of Third and Butler streets.
Judge Janet Dyar-Welch said the court files, dating back to 2005, were being temporarily stored in the room while more suitable storage facilities could be located.
She said the building shook when TGC's vibroseis vehicles passed the court on Monday morning.
A summer worker for the court went into the temporary storage room later to retrieve a file, and discovered water all over the floor. Welch said the water was later found to be sewage from restrooms on the second floor of the building.
According to the city engineer's office, a sewage pipe cleanout cap had broken, allowing the liquid to run out onto the floor.
City engineer Joe Tucker said his staff is continuing to investigate whether the damage was caused by the seismic vibrations.
"We're trying to get more information from Nicholson and TGC to help us determine what happened," he said. "Fortunately I have a thorough inspection report with photos of that area prior to this incident."
But Tucker said the engineering department will have to gather more information before making a determination.
He said if the court was impacted by the vibrations, there could be other structures in the city that were also affected.
"We may sent a letter to TGC, noting the damage to the court building and indicating that there could be other damage in the city not discovered yet," Tucker said. "One concern could be the 9-foot culvert that runs under Third and Butler streets near the court."
Blalock said the company takes precautions like stationing workers on either side of the vibroseis machinery with monitors to make sure the vibrations are not too strong.
"We can't confirm or deny that the damage was caused by our equipment. It's very uncommon for that to happen," he said. "But we don't have any problem paying for plumbing work or whatever is needed. We want to make sure everything's good."