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City cautious about seismic survey



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November 28, 2012 - A letter requesting permission to complete a seismic survey piqued Clarkston's curiosity, but that curiosity wasn't enough for the city council to allow the test.

"We don't know enough about it," said Mayor Joe Luginski.

"There were too many questions," said Councilman Mike Sabol.

In response to a letter from West Bay Exploration, the city has asked a representative from the company to attend a regular meeting and answer their questions.

According to City Manager Dennis Ritter, the letter they received on Nov. 9 was the first communication from the company.

West Bay Exploration is an oil and gas exploration company from Traverse City.

"We've been exploring for oil and gas in Oakland County for about 20 years," said West Bay's Vice President Patrick Gibson.

Over the past two and a half years, West Bay has drilled 50 oil wells in Jackson County where Gibson said they found a significant amount of the valuable resource. West Bay Exploration has also drilled wells in Kensington Metro Park and at the GM proving grounds in Milford.

A seismic survey is "the first step in determining if there were some further interest to us in the area," said Gibson.

A seismic survey will help West Bay Exploration determine if there are minerals like natural gas or oil beneath the ground in Clarkston, but why look here?

"We have drilled other successful wells in Oakland County," Gibson said.

While West Bay has done seismic surveys in Independence Township, they have not drilled within the township.

"As wells are drilled throughout the state, urbanized areas are one of the last areas that haven't been fully explored," Gibson said of oil and gas interests in Independence and Clarkston. To perform a seismic survey, West Bay Exploration would place a set of cables along the shoulder of the road.

"Every few yards there's a small set of microphones attached to the cable," Gibson explained. "We have a small vibrator tractor—the size of a small farm tractor – and it comes down the road, and every few yards it sets a rubber pad on the road, shakes for just a second, picks the pad back up, and continues that way until its done shaking the length of the line."

While Gibson said no roads would be closed for the survey, "there may be a flagman out there stopping traffic for a very short period of time, but it's not a time consuming process." The entire survey would likely take two days, said Gibson.

He also said the test would not cause damage to the road or nearby houses.

"Seismically, if you were to stand several yards away from where the tractor is vibrating the ground it's not even something you're going to feel," he said.

The area in downtown Clarkston where West Bay is interested in testing is on Ortonville Road between Middle Lake and Waldon Roads. If the seismic survey is completed, data analysis is a process that can take about two months.

After that, "it could be anywhere from a year to several years before we would actually drill a well if we did in fact find something that is worth drilling for," he said.

West Bay's main interest is oil, but even after completing the seismic survey the company won't know for certain that the valuable mineral is below the ground. Instead, they'll have found traps in the rock where oil could be located. The only way to know for certain is to drill.

Once they've begun drilling, West Bay could find oil, but they might find brine water or nothing at all, said Gibson.

If drilling were to occur, Gibson said West Bay Exploration would likely bore into the ground vertically and horizontally to extract oil, but they would not use hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Gibson assured, fracking "is not something that we do," and they haven't used the technique of fracking in the past.

Although Gibson hadn't yet seen the letter from the City Council requesting a representative, he said, "If they asked us to go, I'm sure that we will."

The next City Council meeting will take place on Monday, December 10 at 7 p.m. at the Village Hall on Depot Road.

Clarkston News reporter
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