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Oil co.'s vibrations may help quake research

January 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
An oil company is using heavy equipment in the Long Beach area to search for oil and gas miles below the Earth's surface. The company's testing can help seismologists better understand earthquake faults.Four seismic survey trucks crept along streets in Long Beach and Signal Hill Thursday dropping plates and sending sound waves down into the ground.

"It's a technology similar to an ultrasound in the medical field," said Dan Hollis, managing partner of NodalSeismic.

Just with 60,000-pound, half-million-dollar trucks, and considerably more energy.

"These vibrations are calibrated to go down from just a couple hundred feet below the surface, down to about 15,000 feet," said Hollis.

That's nearly 3 miles beneath the Long Beach area, home of the Newport-Inglewood Fault.

The goal is to create a 3-D map of the fault and hopefully find oil, lots of oil.

"There could be another billion barrels down in this area," said David Slater, vice president and general manager of Signal Hill Petroleum Inc.

Signal Hill Petroleum is paying millions of dollars for the project. It will take more than six months. These trucks and their crews will map a 15-square-mile area underneath the Long Beach area, and hopefully hit pay dirt.

"The Los Angeles Basin is one of the most prolific oil and gas sedimentary basins in the entire world," said Slater. "So it's a good place to look."

Sending vibrations into the ground is one thing, measuring is another. That's where 5,200 nodes buried all throughout the Long Beach area come in, measuring all the vibrations the machines produce.

Slater admits in the past, surveys like these sparked complaints from residents. But he says new technology means little shaking at the surface, hopefully not enough for folks to find fault with the process of finding faults.