Seismic testing for natural gas planned at base of Roan Plateau |

Seismic testing for natural gas planned at base of Roan Plateau

by Dennis Webb
GSPI News Editor

Seismic testing for natural gas is being proposed at the base of the Roan Plateau and on a part of the Grand Hogback included in a citizens’ wilderness proposal.

The work, under consideration for approval by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, involves sending vibrations underground to locate gas reserves. The vibrations are made by explosives set off in 40-foot-deep drill holes, and by use of a so-called “thumper truck” that pounds the ground.

Although the use of those trucks elsewhere has raised objections from environmentalists, they are not of much concern in this case.

Thumper trucks are technically referred to as “vibroseis” buggies.

“They make big tracks,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, Western Slope field coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

However, they would be used only on existing roads on Hubbard Mesa, north of Rifle at the base of the Roan Plateau. In areas without roads, drill holes would be used instead, and would later be plugged.

‘Precursor to drilling’?

Environmentalists’ concerns center on the limited opportunity for public comment on the proposal, and the fact that it is occurring even as the BLM is working on a land management plan for the Roan Plateau region, including Hubbard Mesa.

“We are a little concerned that they would be doing this before they have considered what lands are available for (energy) leasing,” said Kolbenschlag.

“Exploration is basically a precursor to drilling,” he said.

The Roan Plateau planning process has drawn national attention due to the Bush administration’s push for more energy development on public lands. Environmentalists fear the Roan plan will be tailored toward that goal.

Seismic testing “is going to limit the realistic choice of alternatives,” Kolbenschlag said. “It kind of highlights our fear that the decision already has been made up there and they’re just going through the paperwork.”

Steve Bennett, associate director of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, says the testing has no connection with the Roan Plateau planning.

“It’s not something that actually affects our decisions in the planning process or anything,” he said.

Instead, the testing will give energy companies information about the potential for gas development, he said. He said the BLM doesn’t even get access to that information, as companies have no obligation to share it.

Land use plans such as the one forthcoming for the Roan Plateau generally don’t constrain seismic testing operations except on steep slopes, Bennett said.

He said seismic testing already has been used elsewhere in the Roan Plateau Planning Area. Williams Production undertook a major testing project three years ago between Hubbard Mesa and Parachute, north of Interstate 70. It involved the use of thumper trucks, and in steeper terrain, holes drilled by a portable drill placed on sites by helicopter.

Testing also has occurred on the top of the plateau, Bennett said. Environmentalists and area governments have called for no drilling to be allowed on the plateau top.

The current testing is proposed by Dawson Geophysical Co. The acreage involved was not available, but Bennett said 12 miles of seismic testing lines would be laid on BLM land, and eight miles on private lands. The BLM is working on an environmental assessment for the project on public land; it has no permitting authority over the rest of the project.

Part of the testing would take place on an area of the Grand Hogback that is home to the Rifle Arch, and is targeted by environmentalists for possible wilderness protection.

Kolbenschlag said interested parties got only 14 days to comment on the testing proposal, and there are no plans to accept additional comments once the BLM completes an environmental assessment.

“It’s not a very public process,” he said.

Bennett said the BLM doesn’t generally put routine proposals such as the testing project out for public comment, or publish legal notices about them. It sought comment from environmentalists because their proposed wilderness area would be impacted by the project.

Ground vibrations from seismic testing shouldn’t be noticeable to nearby residents, he said.

“Unless you’re standing right there, you hardly notice it. It’s such a minimally impacting thing,” said Bennett.

He said if the testing is approved, it probably wouldn’t begin until spring.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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