BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
There could be millions of gallons of crude oil in as-yet-undiscovered reservoirs deep in the ground beneath Signal Hill and Long Beach. If such is the case, and those reservoirs can be detected, this area could experience a miniature version of the oil boom that took place here starting in the 1920s.
The officials of Signal Hill Petroleum (SHP) are hoping that discovery is exactly what occurs. In fact, the company recently invested in a high-tech seismic truck that carries mobile technology capable of detecting pockets of oil deep underground. The vehicle, which has “monster truck” wheels, could be showing up on local streets soon.
About two weeks ago, Dave Slater, vice president of SHP, gave a description of the vehicle, known as a Vibroseis truck, to the Signal Hill City Council members and other city officials. Then he took everyone outside so they could see and feel how the truck operates.
Before Slater’s presentation, City Manager Ken Farfsing noted that geologists believe the local oil field still has significant untapped reserves. He added that oil-extraction technology has made such tremendous strides in recent years that oil that was not economically feasible to pump a few years ago can now be extracted at a profit.
According to Slater, SHP plans to use the truck’s cutting-edge technology to get detailed pictures of what lies under portions of Signal Hill and Long Beach. He explained that the company will use the truck to identify hidden crude oil deposits and to map out areas from which they can be accessed.
He added that SHP will share the underground images with governmental agencies that need more detailed information about the earthquake faults that pass through this region.
Slater said the truck will first be used in a pilot project starting next month. “We want to first of all demonstrate that we can conduct this operation in an urban setting and be neighbor-friendly as we have the technology operating,” he said. “The other goal is to demonstrate and test the new technology that we are bringing to the field and to the industry.” He noted that the technology is expected to revolutionize the ability of oil companies to gather underground data and minimize surface impact during the exploration and exploitation of oil deposits.
According to Slater, the truck will be operating along Cherry Avenue from Pacific Coast Highway to about 10 blocks south of Carson Street, on Spring Street from Long Beach Boulevard to the airport underpass, on Willow Street from Long Beach Boulevard to Lakewood Boulevard, and along Redondo Avenue from Pacific Coast Highway to Spring Street. A small portion of the Long Beach Airport may be explored also.
The pilot project is expected to take 7 to10 days. Slater said it would take place only on weekdays. SHP expects to begin the project in early July, starting with the Willow Street corridor.
Slater said seismic technology has been used in the Signal Hill area before, but not since 1984. “The technology has advanced tremendously since then,” he noted. “It gives us a much higher-resolution picture of the earth’s crust.”
Briefly describing the technology, Slater said the truck is equipped with a vibrating plate that creates an acoustic wave. “As the acoustic wave travels through the earth, it hits different geological strata,” he explained. “The strata are of varying densities and compositions and what that means is they generate a small reflection.”
Slater added that the reflection bounces back to the earth’s surface and is picked up by very specialized microphones and receivers placed on the ground in close proximity to the truck. The microphones and receivers transmit the reflection to a computer via radio waves. The computer then translates the reflections into very detailed visual images that can be viewed and interpreted by geologists and oil field experts.
The Vibroseis truck was assembled by Long Beach-based Seismic Imaging Solutions Company, a subsidiary of SHP.
Slater stressed that even the vibrations emitted by the truck’s vibrating plate are computer controlled. “It allows for a much more controlled, subtle vibration being created and contained within specific parameters,” he said.
The vibrations emitted by the truck will not cause damage to nearby buildings and infrastructure, according to Slater.
He noted that there were public as well as private benefits to extracting more oil from the ground. Those benefits include increased tax revenues for the cities of Long Beach and Signal Hill, the creation of more living-wage jobs, and at least a slight lessening of America’s dependence on foreign oil. Slater added that the data gathered by the truck will significantly add to geologists’ understanding of local earthquake faults.
After Slater’s presentation, city officials and residents stepped outside to see how the truck operates. As they watched, the truck’s vibrating plate was lowered to the ground and turned on. A series of vibrations that felt like very minor earthquakes pulsated beneath the feet of onlookers. At the same time, a computer screen on a nearby table displayed high-resolution images of the geologic strata under the ground next to City Hall.
Slater said that, during the pilot project, the truck would operate on a given location for only five minutes before moving to the next location.
SHP currently has 450 oil wells in the Long Beach/Signal Hill area. Many of those wells have not been in operation for several years. Slater said some of those wells could be put back into operation as a result of the seismic study’s findings, and it could also be necessary to drill new wells. He assured the council, however, that the company’s reputation as a neighborhood-friendly corporation would remain intact, and all future oil operations would have minimal impacts on residences and local businesses.