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Aerial assistance

Buccaneer using helicopters as part of seismic work

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 10:21pm  |  Updated: February 9, 2012 - 10:29pm
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Brent Lithgow hovers overhead as Alex Paganucci secures a drilling machine for transport Thursday during seismic testing work in Kenai.  M. Scott Moon
M. Scott Moon
Brent Lithgow hovers overhead as Alex Paganucci secures a drilling machine for transport Thursday during seismic testing work in Kenai.

A pair of helicopters have been buzzing over Kenai for the past week as part of the seismic work being done by Buccaneer Alaska.

Buccaneer is hoping the seismic work will eventually give it a better idea where oil and natural gas deposits are on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Right now, work is underway north of the Kenai Spur Highway on land owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

“It’s ... the heliportable drilling,” said John Land, the lead permit agent for Weems Geophysical. 

Weems is coordinating the seismic studies for Buccaneer Alaska, a subsidiary of Australia-based Buccaneer Energy that is looking for oil and natural gas on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Cook Inlet. The seismic effort involves five or six contrators, Land said.

Clean Harbors is currently in the field drilling shot holes assisted by two Northern Pioneer helicopters.

A different crew will go out and get the echo readings that determine the landscape below ground based on how the vibrations travel.

The purpose of the heliportable drilling is to drill shot holes 25 feet below ground with dynamite buried at the bottom of each hole.

The pilot drops the hook near each piece; a man on the ground attaches it to the drill. The drill is lifted, moved to the next point, and the helicopter comes back for the compressor unit. Once both pieces are in place, the crew drills the shot hole and sends a piece of dynamite to the bottom.

At any given time, there are two helicopters in the air, each is responsible for moving four drills, one piece at a time.

Each drill is run by a ground crew — two workers wearing snowshoes and day-glo safety vests — that stays in communication with the air crew via radio.

In total, Clean Harbors’ crews are drilling about 1,600 or 1,700 holes about 320 feet apart, distributed throughout the survey area in lines forming a grid-like pattern.

The pattern was determined before the helicopter work began. A general idea of the plot was laid out on a computer, and then a survey crew explored the area and checked out each point, making sure that it was an appropriate distance away from buildings and other landmarks.

Land said the next area set to be drilled for seismic is south of Beaver Loop Road. 

The work is done in winter in part because the seismic work is not supposed to leave a trace. Ideally, the holes will get filled in, the snow will melt, and there won’t be any footprints left behind.

The seismic work has been drawing the attention of central Peninsula residents. Thursday afternoon, Lloyd Toepel and his family watched the helicopters carry equipment around Kenai for the seismic crews. From their vantage point near the Kenai Spur Highway, Toepel, Michelle Konig and their kids Riot and Patience Toepel could even see some of the drill crews at work.

Lloyd said they live in the neighborhood and noticed the helicopters in the air. They wanted to see what was happening, Lloyd said. He hoped the work was a good sign for the local economy, he said.

“I think it’s good, means there’s more oil around here,” Lloyd said.

For now, the work is staying in the woods, but eventually land crews will be working on Kenai roads.

Land said Weems expects that work to begin around March 1, after it wraps up the heliportable work.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources is taking public comments on Buccaneer’s work plan until Feb. 24. The comment period opened Jan. 26, and is part of the Geophysical Exploration Permit process. 

The city of Kenai has also been talking with Buccaneer about the road work. City Manager Rick Koch said the city will have an independent observer, paid for by Buccaneer, on-site whenever the contractors are working, and that Buccaneer will notify neighborhoods before it begins work in city limits.

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