What is the company doing at this stage? 1
In the early stages of shale development, a company—or possibly several companies—determines whether or not to develop potential oil and gas reserves in your area. Before making the decision to pursue development at a site, companies first take the time and invest resources in studying and understanding the area.
In an area where potential oil and gas reserves have not yet been exploited, a variety of oil and gas operators, ranging from small companies to multinational corporations, might be seeking to assess the resources. At this stage, the identity of the operator is often not apparent because companies do not wish to alert their competitors to their possible interest in the area. Operators therefore hire a third-party surveyor to conduct early exploration activities on their behalf. The third-party survey company might be providing information to one company, several different companies, or conducting their own exploratory surveys in the hope of later selling the information to an oil and gas operator.
Oil and gas reserves are found almost exclusively in sedimentary rocks contained within certain geologic structures. To determine whether such structures are present, the survey company may undertake the following geophysical exploration activities:
- reviewing the historical records of the area under investigation
- reviewing geologic field maps, previous well drilling data, and coring information
- conducting field work to examine the geologic properties on the surface
- performing subsurface remote sensing, using photography, LiDAR, and infrared images to locate the target geologic structures
- conducting seismic testing
The most common geophysical exploration method is seismic testing. If sufficient geologic and/or geophysical data is already available in your area, however, the operator may forgo additional seismic testing. This test does not confirm the presence of oil or gas deposits, but rather indicates a rock type that is likely to contain them.
Seismic tests artificially generate sound waves picked up by receivers (geophones) to create a 2- or 3-dimensional subsurface map. To create the sound waves, the company can 1) employ thumper trucks (which drop heavy weights on roads or other surfaces), 2) detonate explosive charges (a specialized form of dynamite) deep underground, or 3) use a ground-shaking device.
Depending on state and local requirements, the seismic survey company may be required to obtain a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) permit for the transport of heavy loads. Additionally, the company might need to post a bond to hedge against any damages to roads or other public infrastructure. Other possible requirements include employing traffic officers, posting safety signage, and notifying nearby residents of the planned seismic survey work.
If the company wishes to survey on private land, it is often necessary to obtain permission from the property owner. In some cases, the company provides nominal compensation to those who sign permission slips for seismic survey work on their property. Not all jurisdictions require companies to obtain landowner permission, however. 2 For information on the regulations in your state governing exploration, contact the relevant state agency (see Table 2 for a list of agencies).
- The sections on company practice were based on descriptions in several documents, including Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, Modern Shale Gas in the United States: A Primer; National Energy Technology Laboratory, Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: An Update; United States Government Accountability Office, Oil and Gas: Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks; Shell Oil Company, “Life of an Onshore Well” (graphic animation); Geological Society of America website “GSA Critical Issue: Hydraulic Fracturing”; and Earthworks, Oil and Gas at Your Door? A Landowner’s Guide to Oil and Gas Development. These sections were then refined through interactions with industry representatives and consultants via document edits, Work Group guidance, and input in the June 11, 2015 multi-stakeholder workshop. ↩
- “Can You Conduct a Seismic Survey without a Landowner’s Permission?” Courthousedirect.com (August 14, 2013). ↩