Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:49 PM on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Apache readies for its seismic survey

Company to map large swath of Kenai Peninsula, Cook Inlet

By Molly Dischner
Morris News Service - Alaska

Apache Corporation has begun public outreach on a seismic project that would write the subsurface book for much of the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet.

"This is the largest seismic shoot ever in Cook Inlet," said John Hendrix, head of Apache's Alaska operations.

Hendrix said the size of the company's seismic undertaking matches its position as a lease holder.

"We are the largest acreage holder in Cook Inlet," Hendrix said.

Now Apache is hoping to gather the knowledge to make those leases productive.

Eventually, the company is looking for oil, though Hendrix said it also will develop natural gas as they come across it.

For now, Apache just needs to know what's underground, and where.

"Seismic, to Apache, is the beginning of (our) exploration," Hendrix said.

The company's seismic plan is a little different than what other operators have deployed in the area.

"We're using cable-less technology," explained Suzan Simonds, from SAExploration, the company Apache contracted to carry out the seismic work.

Essentially, the company will send sound waves about 20- to 25-feet below ground or under the sea. Wireless receivers will be placed throughout the area, measuring how the sound travels. Geologists can use that information to figure out the subterranian structures that usually hold hydrocarbons.

The seismic process started last year with a test run comparing technology on the west side of Cook Inlet and continues in that area with data collection currently under way. Now the company is permitting for its work on the Kenai Peninsula.

Letters were recently mailed to all property owners who would be affected by the plan.

"We want to sit down and talk to you," Hendrix told the roughly two dozen people gathered at Tustumena Elementary last Thursday to hear about the company's plans.

It was the second public meeting Apache spoke at in Kasilof in the last several months, and the third meeting on the peninsula last week. Apache and SAE spoke to about 50 people each in Anchor Point and Ninilchik on Feb. 14 and 15, respectively.

Hendrix, a Homer High School graduate, returned to his hometown on Monday to speak to the Homer City Council about Apache's plans. He provided the council with an overview of Apache's plans, including leases on the eastern and western sides of Cook Inlet and north of the Anchor River drainage. Apache also has leases near Nikiski and in the Kenai area.

"Apache wants to be viewed as the most responsible developer," Hendrix told the council. "We're not here as a one-shot wonder. We're here to succeed in Alaska."

Council member Kevin Hogan noted that some lease areas were in important commercial fishing spots.

"I would certainly hope your plans would mitigate those impacts," Hogan said.

Hendrix said Apache would go through the proper state leasing permit process.

"We want to be responsible and engage with the community," Hendrix said.

Homer Mayor James Hornaday noted that Homer has many special interest groups that are vocal and critical of oil development.

"They do not speak for the city of Homer," Hornaday said. "From my view, I support this ... You're welcome here, and we hope you'll come participate."

Those southern and central peninsula communities would feel Apache's presence under the company's current plan for exploration.

The plan calls for the first phase of Kenai Peninsula work to begin in mid-August and run through the winter. The company would start with seismic data from south of Anchor Point to the Kasilof area.

The first phase is considered transitional, meaning that the seismic work will be both on land and in the sea.

Apache wants data on a swath of land that runs about two miles out into the ocean, and four miles onto land.

The varied terrain will require three different wireless receivers.

Marine nodes, which are deployed in the ocean, are shaped similarly to a round life-preserver, with three geophones and a pinger location device inside each marine node. Those receivers weigh about 60 pounds.

Each land node is a yellow cylinder with a geophone receiver and a GPS unit inside.

A modified land node is meant for marshy terrain. That node is a little larger than the regular land node, and has a spike at the bottom.

SAE will deploy about 6,000 nodes in the course of its work, but at any given time, some will be in the field and others will be in staging areas — either on land or on boats — to download information and recharge.

The nodes and source locations will be placed every 165 feet in a pre-determined grid pattern. That pattern is set before crews enter the field, but surveyors help adjust it for hazards, such as homes and wells, to maintain a certain safety distance. Once the surveyors have set the final pattern, crews using helicopters and boats will set the receiving nodes in place and get the area ready for sound waves.

On land, the sound waves are created with a substance called bentonite, which is put into holes about 35-feet below ground.

In the water, crews use an air gun, which produces an air bubble in the water. The pressure differences then cause a sound wave to travel downward from that point.

The charges will be set one at a time.

Helicopters, boats and a significant amount of manpower will be needed to conduct the seismic work.

Simonds said that the company is hiring for its efforts. The community meetings last week offered applications and job descriptions for potential employees. That information is also available online.

As part of the permitting process, SAE wants to talk to every land owner in the affected area and get their permission for the work. SAE, which has a field office in Ninilchik, recently sent out letters to landowners seeking permission to do seismic and geophysical testing on their land.

"There are about 7,000 private permits that we need to get for this area," said David Henning, who works with permitting with SAE.

Henning said SAE wants landowners to know that the work will involve low-flying helicopters. The company can adjust its plans to accommodate weddings or other events when a landowner doesn't want the disturbance, he said.

The company generally uses international geophysical standards to set the distance away from structures, wells and other structures that it works, but Simonds said individuals can request an extra distance of separation if that makes them feel more comfortable with the work.

Simonds said that about 100 feet away from a shot hole, someone might hear a thump. Beyond that distance, the helicopters will be more noticeable than the underground soundwaves.

Work farther inland will be conducted in subsequent years. The company is still developing its plan for the rest of the central peninsula, said Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker. The work will take about three full years, Hendrix said.

Hendrix said the company wants to earn a reputation as the most responsible developer of hydrocarbons in Alaska.

The seismic work will be done with heliportable drills, so all of the holes are created by a drill that is brought in by helicopter. Since there aren't cables, either, the drilling won't require creating a significant imprint on the land.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. Michael Armstrong of the Homer News contributed to this article.

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