Marietta off the map for seismic testing

A company planning to do seismic mapping in the coming weeks will not set off any vibrations inside Marietta’s city limits.

Concerns over the effects of the underground vibrations on the city’s infrastructure and residents’ homes initially led Millersburg-based Precision Geophysical Inc. to agree to alter its route to avoid the historic Harmar district. Continued talks with city officials have now resulted in an agreement to refrain from instigating any vibrations used in the underground mapping process while its trucks travel through Marietta, city officials said Monday.

“They’re going to stop short of the city limits and then resume outside the city limits,” Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said.

Precision Geophysical President Steve McCrossin said that based on concerns raised about the process, this seemed to be the easiest solution. The company still has the city’s blessing to set up devices called “geophones” to monitor vibrations initiated outside the city.

“We’ll still get some data through there, it just won’t be as good,” McCrossin said. “It’s going to have an adverse effect on our readings.”

Seismic mapping involves trucks that periodically lower a metal disk to the road and set off vibrations. The resulting sound waves are used to create 2- and 3-dimensional mapping of underground formations in search of oil and natural gas deposits.

McCrossin said the backlash against the process from Marietta residents has been a strange experience.

“We’ve been through major cities all over the state of Ohio” with no problems, he said.

The process made a bad impression on some Pioneer City residents last year when a Texas-based company sent so-called “thumper” trucks rolling through the city. Washington Street resident Barbara Stewart, 58, reported her house shook like an earthquake, causing a coffee cup to fall from a table and shatter. Of even more concern to her is the potential effects on the soil beneath her home and nearby roadways.

“The damage is cumulative, and it’s very difficult to quantify,” Stewart said.

Precision officials told the city the trucks they planned to use would not employ as much force as the ones that came through last year and would be less intrusive.

The company has already done some seismic mapping earlier this year in Adams, Salem, Liberty and Ludlow townships, Washington County Engineer Roger Wright said.

“We’re not seeing or hearing many complaints,” he said, adding he’s heard no reports of damage claims.

For the latest round of mapping, tentatively scheduled for July 1-3, Precision has obtained permits from the county to travel from just outside the Belpre city limits on Washington County 2 to Ohio 550 near Fleming and along Washington County 3 from Ohio 555 to Ohio 7. A second permit allows the company to travel from Ohio 7 to Newport Township 480 via County Roads 9, 20 and 22, Wright said.

In between, the company planned to continue the process through Marietta, but the new arrangement means no vibrations will be started in the city.

Hupp said Precision has a good track record and no new information emerged that painted them in a bad light. Still, he said, he and Mayor Joe Matthews felt the latest arrangement was “a workable solution.”

“We were desperately trying to get a workable solution that would benefit the company, protect the town … and have (residents’) fears answered,” Hupp said.

City Councilman Denver Abicht, D-at large and chairman of council’s streets and transportation committee, said he didn’t believe Precision would use enough force to cause any damage, but he acknowledged constituents were worried and said the administration made the right choice.

“They did a pretty smart thing,” he said.

Stewart said she’s pleased the vibrations won’t be done in the city but frustrated that the process was initially allowed before there was much discussion. While Hupp has made comments about wanting the city to be friendly to businesses, Stewart said government’s role is to protect its citizens.

“My greatest business mentor said to me, ‘Not every idea that makes a lot of money is a good idea,'” she said.

Hupp said he didn’t want to see council pass legislation to prohibit seismic mapping in the city and felt the city should work with the business as best it could while also protecting itself and its residents.

The mapping is part of the accelerating oil and natural gas interest in the area now that technological advances have opened up the deep-underground Utica and Marcellus shale formations. Hupp suggested to council members that they contact representatives in Columbus about the issue, noting the data gathered by last year’s seismic mapping went to a different company, which is why another entity enlisted Precision to do this latest round.

“They need to communicate with the statehouse to force these fellows to talk with one another,” he said.

Dunham Township Trustee Kenny Mace said he’s heard people say the seismic mapping process can crack basements but he’s never seen that substantiated. He believes the search for mineral deposits is a plus for the area.

“As far as I’m concerned, if it’s going to bring jobs around, I’m all for it,” Maze said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is tickled to death.”

Darlene Fritsche, 71, lives in Dunham Township on Veto Road (Washington County 3) and said she’s not really worried about the trucks coming through.

“I don’t know what kind of effect it’ll have,” she said. “I would be concerned if it did something to my house, and if it did, who would be responsible?”

McCrossin said Precision does have insurance, in case problems do arise, and there are zero claims against them. When the vibrations were planned to happen in Marietta, city officials suggested residents take date-stamped photos or videos of their property before the process occurred, in case they did need to file a damage claim.

No permits have been requested within Belpre city limits, safety-service director Dave Ferguson said.