Update: Seismic Thumping in Wayne County, PA


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.

9 thoughts on “Update: Seismic Thumping in Wayne County, PA

  1. Damascus resident

    On Saturday the “thumper” trucks performed vibroseis directly in front of my home which is less than fifty feet from the road. I was aware that this testing would be happening, but not when. While the sight of 4 large military looking trucks coming down my little back road was unnerving, it didn’t compare with what was to follow. I was taking photos of the trucks approaching and then to my dismay stopping directly in front of my home. At this point I observed a man suddenly run from the road on to my property towards the back of my house. This truly unnerved me. He had a small case and a probe of some sort which he inserted in to the earth. Choosing to confront him, I got his attention and motioned for him to come nearer the house so I could speak to him. The noise from the trucks made speech 15 feet apart impossible. I asked him what he was doing on my property. He informed me that he did not work for the people (Dawson) who were doing the vibroseis, but worked for a company out of Michigan. Since I saw the company that placed all the orange flags, I knew that they were from Michigan from their license plates. I accepted that he worked for them and not Dawson. He explained that it was his job to test the vibration levels being produced to make sure they were not high enough to damage my home. He further explained that while they try not to test directly in front of anyone’s house, sometimes it is necessary. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I asked him why he hadn’t asked permission to come on to my property, and he said that when he asked, people got upset. Imagine that! I suppose I could/should report him, but since his purpose seemed to be to my benefit I chose not to. He then walked back towards the road while I walked through my house to the front. What did I see there but my new acquaintance in my front yard measuring vibrations again, and then ultimately giving the trucks the okay to start the vibrations. They were quite intense. As I leaned against my front porch columh taking pictures of the situation I could feel my entire home shaking. I don’t want to overdramatize this situation. The pictures were not falling off the walls and furniture wasn’t toppling over, but it was a very deep strong vibration that could be felt deep in your chest in more ways than one. I don’t know what would have happened had I denied this man access to my property and the test that was supposed to make sure my home wasn’t damaged. Would they have skipped my house without that data and moved on, or would they have just gone ahead and done the vibroseis. I do not take the violation of my private property lightly and would urge others to seek the legality of these actions, especially when undertaken without permission. Should it be of interest to anyone I have photographs of the activity.

    Thank you.

  2. Jim Barth

    Another homeowner wrote the local community network and stated that he lives 150 feet back from the dirt road, and his whole house was shaking from it.

  3. Pat Farnelli

    Our property was last tested with thumper trucks and vibroseis on Thanksgiving Day, 2009. The vibrating and shaking went on all day and until we finished dinner. One would think a holiday like Thanksgiving might be a good time to pause operations, but no, not according to Dawson, Cabot and other related corporations. A month or so ago, we found out that seismic testing can shut off springs and contaminate well water. Were we warned? Of course not. Perhaps they figured, “Oh, they already have gas in their water, what’s a little more disturbance?” Who’s to say what goes on in their heads? I can’t blame the workers outside. They were probably bummed out to be spending their Thanksgiving rumbling houses.

  4. maria

    Today I drove through Pa following the flags. This is a huge survey that is being undertaken. Damascus and Dyberry Township were totally involved in today’s flagging and there is probably more that I missed. A good portion of the survey goes right through PA state park lands, through wetlands, next to working farms with livestock close to the roads and directly next to and crossing creeks (in which fishermen were fishing.)
    Is this survey being done for pipeline work? If this is the proposes route of the pipeline that will connect the thousands of proposed wells it will be a horrific mess to the environment, farmland, livestock, private property and to our “precious” roads.
    In Honesdale, some shop keepers went to the sidewalk to observe the umongous equipment negoiating the turn at Route 6 and Rt. 191.
    “they have begun…” I heard one person say.

  5. Regret

    “We need the gas” is a lie. Wayne county property owners that leased don’t need the gas- they need the money. Those of us who didn’t lease will have their properties wrecked because the hicks were tricked into getting a few dollars and in return having the entire area ruined.

    It really amazed me how foolish and simple people in Wayne Co. were to believe the lies the gas companies were telling them without ever investigating the veracity of the companies claims.

    NWPOA and SWOGG will be infamously remembered as instrumental in allowing our area to be ruined.

  6. lizbucar Post author

    Although all comments are entertained by Breathing and have never been moderated, name-calling is unacceptable. There’s so much hard work going on, I’d hate to have to spend my time moderating this forum. Thanks, Liz

  7. Regret

    Oh come on! It’s fun to have some intensity in discussion! Haven’t you ever called someone “an idiot” or “redneck”? How about eliminating the politically correct language in the posts? I find PC language offensive, racist and narrow minded. Certainly if you lived in Wayne co. and had your property values ruined by those that are motivated by greed then you’d be mad too.

    You just wait until they start drilling! In the next 10 years if you could sell your property and get $1000 an acre you’ll be happy….but no one’s going to buy into an area declared to be a superfund….then the tears will flow. I can hear it now, “the gas company were such nice people…I had no idea they’d do this to my property!”.

  8. lizbucar Post author

    Dear Regret, I do all kinds of things in private that I don’t do in public but I have yet to encounter a situation where someone was sitting on a fence about an issue that degrading them convinced them of the value of my opinion. Civility is maintained here not because I’m a nice person but because I’m a pragmatist and because we are in such deep trouble, I will not intentionally risk alienating anyone who’s still interested in the hard cold facts.

    I have loved ones living in Wayne County. I am increasingly sickened by worries for their health and financial security. THAT’s why, while there is a single person in Pennsylvania or New York still on the fence about drilling, this forum will remain civil. So, despite your anger and outrage, I hope you will see that larger picture and contain the sometimes mind-breaking frustration. Please help me reach out to those who have not signed or whose leases will come up for renewal or who have signed but will, nonetheless, support a moratorium or, at the very least, the FRAC Act. The day I explode is the day I will have given up.

  9. Regret

    I understand what you’re saying however what you don’t understand is that Wayne Co. has largely been leased already and it’s very doubtful that much more leasing will go on. None of the lessees have any intention of not drilling and none of the lessors want them to stop or to be stopped. So, any possible changes are improbable and they certainly aren’t and can’t make any changes to the gas leases. Oh, granted the state will more than likely write some laws that’ll make everyone think they’re being protected from the effects of drilling, like PA’s Constitution Article 1 Sect. 27, but in reality the state doesn’t have enough brains or money to restrain gas companies to the benefit of the citizenry and the land. Frankly, we don’t need more laws. We only need the enforcement of contracts and aggressive prosecution of those that cause damage, be it personal or environmental.

    Again,the problem is money. People here in Wayne want the money and nothing else you tell them matters because they really do think the gas companies would never do them any harm….just like everyone thinks we’re in Afghanistan to defend “freedom”. The only reason we’re there is to get a gas pipeline built to move gas from Russia through Kyrgzstan and Tajikistan through Afghanistan then Pakistan to the Indian ocean. If the US will invade and destroy countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan just to get or facilitate the delivery of fossil fuels then there’s little chance much will stand in it’s way to get gas out of the ground in Wayne or NY using their “partners” the gas companies.

    But there is always hope. But hope has to be based on reason.

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