Confusion abounds concerning the seismic thumping planned for our neighbors in Damascus (Wayne County) Pennsylvania.
First, as to whether or not the National Environmental Planning Act — used in the State of Wyoming to trigger an investigation of seismic thumping — would apply to the activity in our Delaware River Corridor, apparently, the answer is, no. In a phone conversation with Charles Barsz, the National Park Service’s (NPS) Philadelphia Division Chief of the Wild & Scenic River, Breathing was informed that, “Seismic thumping apparently falls in the cracks. Because the NPS does not own the land, the agency cannot trigger an investigation of seismic thumping or its impact on the River or its fauna.” Mr. Barsz has promised to look further into concerns raised by seismic thumping on what are frequently single-lane, dirt roads with little or no shoulder, within a couple hundred feet of the river and often only yards from residences. Of particular concern is the often steep descent from the roadside to the River or its tributary creeks below.
Second, although seismic testing acquires valuable geological information by sending sonic shock waves under privately-held lands, property owners are not reimbursed for the data collected. In other words, the information obtained by seismic tests about your private land is sold to gas extraction companies and the information is not available to you as the landholder. You won’t know if the data reveals your property as a good target for drilling but the gas extraction company will. That disparity in knowledge will place the landholder at a negotiating disadvantage. (This will be of special concern in New York where landholders can be forced into “compulsory integration.”)
In fact, one local landholder wrote, “Executive Director Henderson of the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and I are engaged in a dialogue regarding seismic testing. He agrees that no testing or flags should be allowed on property against that owner’s wishes, and suggests anyone who’s been trespassed [against] should contact their local or state police. Perhaps anyone upset about the testing should follow his advice.” (Bold added for emphasis.)
The Chenango County Farm Bureau offers two documents of especial interest to property owners: “Stop Roadway Seismic Testing Without Your Permission” (which the organization says has been used “with some success”) and a “Memorandum on Seismic Testing” which addresses the issue of trespass by companies which, essentially, “steal” your substrata information.
And lastly, seismic testing comes in a lot of different flavors but there are two types usually done on roadways. “Vibroseis ” is done with seismic vibrators which “shake” the ground over a period of time. “Thumping” is a higher impact testing done by dropping a heavy weight (usually multiple times). (A video and a more detailed explanation of the two types can be Found at Google Videos: Vibrating the Earth – Vibroseis)
One particularly interesting sidelight of seismic testing is that it reveals faults in the geologic layers of the earth which are of particular interest to gas extraction companies seeking areas where toxic by-products of fracking can be injected. Such injections would save companies the expense of trucking the toxic fluids to treatment facilities. Underground injections of toxic flow-back materials are discussed more-fully here. The contention that such injections are environmentally-sound and safe has been hotly contested by those who cite to upward migrations of the toxins which may contaminate our vital aquifers and groundwater.
Ms. Karen Dussinger, Press Officer in District 4 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) told a Breathing source that PennDOT permitted Dawson Geophysical Company to do the seismic testing in accordance with PA Code Title 67, Section 459.9(f). In part, the statute reads,
(f) Seismograph—vibroseis method. Seismograph—vibroseis method shall comply with the following:
(1) Seismograph operations by other than the vibroseis method will not be permitted. (Bold added for emphasis.)
(2) A permit will not be issued to authorize seismograph operations within limited access highway right-of-way.
(3) Wherever possible, seismograph operations shall be performed entirely off the pavement and shoulder to lessen interference to traffic.
Breathing is not certain whether the two technologies — vibroseis and thumping — are used in tandem but it seems clear from the statute that PennDOT is not authorized to permit Dawson or any other company to use high-impact thumping on Pennsylvania’s roadways.
Breathing has asked various agency representatives, biologists and geologists to help locate more definitive studies of the impact of vibroseis on geologic substrata, residential foundations and fauna such as bats, fish and snakes. When, and if, that information is made available, it will be published here.