John Hollenhorst ReportingThere's a whole lot of shaking going on as seismic crews explore for natural gas near a world famous archaeological site in Central Utah. But considering all the controversy near Nine Mile Canyon, the real story may be that the vibrations are so slight they're almost unnoticeable.
They use big trucks designed to shake the ground. But when they put their foot down to do it, you don't see much. At a company demonstration, observers could feel the ground tingle. It's enough to put ripples in a water bottle five feet away, but not enough to knock a golf ball off a tee.
Mike FitzMaurice, Bill Barrett Corporation: “What I’d like to get across to everybody is the fact that the impact is negligible.”
Seismic crews are also drilling thousands of holes and burying 10 or 20 pound bombs. We witnessed a blast up close and personal. We heard it and felt it. But thirty feet away we're perfectly safe. And there was virtually no visual impact.
All the vibrations and sound waves will be translated by computers into three-dimensional geologic maps to pinpoint natural gas.
Mike FitzMaurice: “We want to come in, do the job, do it correctly, get out of there, and have no one know we were ever there.”
Critics battled the project for a year. Thousands of archaeological sites are nearby, some world famous.
Steven Hansen, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition: "I believe that as a result of public awareness and public involvement, the company has become more sensitive."
The company agreed to strict limits on vibrations and a 300 foot buffer zone for archaeology. They're using more helicopters and fewer vehicles to reduce dust and other impacts. Some critics say the company wouldn't even discuss such measures until they filed a lawsuit. A big long-term issue remains -- what if they find what they're looking for, a trillion cubic feet of natural gas?
Mike FitzMaurice: “Even if we have half of that, it’s enough for the heating needs of the general Salt Lake Wasatch Front area for the next 25 or 30 years.”
Critics fear an industrial thoroughfare of gas wells, pipelines, tanks, and trucks, never properly studied by the Bush administration.
Steven Hansen: “Oftentimes we’re seeing energy exploration trumping the preservation of natural treasures.”
But natural gas is a treasure too. And the hunt is on. The seismic exploration project will continue for a few more weeks.