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Seismic testing is set to begin in Murrysville

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A Colorado-based company soon will begin conducting seismic testing in Murrysville as a precursor to Marcellus shale drilling.

Tesla Exploration — a Colorado-based company that specializes in seismic acquisition services for the mining, oil and gas exploration industry — submitted a seismic-testing permit to Murrysville on Tuesday, Chief Administrator Jim Morrison said.

Morrison said he hasn't reviewed the permit but understands that testing will take place from the end of January through early February.

The company will conduct seismic testing with “the express purpose of conducting energy source operations, a seismic survey, using state of the art technology to produce detailed images of the geological structure beneath the earth's surface,” according to a public notice.

Testing will occur on about nine square miles of property stretching from the Washington Township line in the north, the Penn Township line in the south. The western boundary of testing will be along Wiestertown Road. The eastern boundary will be the Delmont border.

Testing can occur only on properties where permission has already been granted, Morrison said. Ion GX Technology and Cougar Land Services, two Texas-based land services companies, had sent out requests to residents throughout Murrysville, Export and Delmont.

Tesla will conduct two types of testing, using vibroseis trucks and detonating charges. The trucks will be used on state and public roads, and charges will be detonated on private properties.

The trucks, which typically are called “thumper trucks,” use a very large weight attached to its undercarriage to thump and shake the ground. Underground soundwaves are recorded to determine the location of gas pockets.

On private properties, Tesla will drill a hole at least 20 feet underground and discharge small amount of explosives inside. The vibrations caused by the explosion will reflect off rock units, said Murrysville Councilman Dave Perry, an environmental geologist.

“It's similar to the technology used for earthquake detection, except this is portable, not permanent,” Perry said. “It's pretty commonly used throughout the world.”

Very rarely, Perry said, there can be problems.

“What can happen, and it's more realistic than structural damage, is you have a blowout because the packing they use detonates the explosive,” Perry said. “That gravel can blow out of the hole.”

Perry said he worked on seismic lines for two summers and only saw that issue twice.

Though Murrysville does have a seismic testing ordinance, officials can't regulate explosives.

That falls to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Under the municipal regulations, an approved engineer must be on site for all seismic testing, Morrison said.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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