Searching for oil and gas in Golden Valley

A driver for NordalSeismic equipment heads east on Shinarump Drive in Golden Valley. (BUTCH MERIWETHER/Courtesy)

A driver for NordalSeismic equipment heads east on Shinarump Drive in Golden Valley. (BUTCH MERIWETHER/Courtesy)

GOLDEN VALLEY - A group of seismic surveyors and their "vibrator buggies" are shaking things up in the Golden Valley area in search for oil and gas, and are set to work there through August.

The group comes from Nodal Seismic, a geophysical firm based out of Signal Hill, Calif. According to their permit issued by Mohave County Public Works department, they have been permitted "to access public rights-of-way for the purpose of conducting exploratory geophysical operations through the greater Golden Valley area."

"This is a natural gas and oil exploration effort. That's what they disclosed to us," said Steven Latoski, director of Mohave County Public Works. Latoski pointed out that Mohave County's involvement in the seismic testing was strictly limited to issuing the permit, and that "this is a private company, with nothing commissioned by Mohave County."

Nodal Seismic brought in four vibroseis vehicles, specialized trucks designed to vibrate the Earth to measure and record seismic data. Each vehicle is equipped with 25-inch all-terrain tires and a pad in the middle of the truck that, during testing, raises the truck off the ground and acts as a source point for the vibrations.

"The collection of seismic data involves sending sound waves into the ground at designated source locations and measuring how long it takes for the subsurface rocks to reflect the waves back to the surface," said Latoski via email.

The area of testing encompasses 110 linear miles across Golden Valley along county roads. Nodal Seismic also notified the county that during testing, they could bring in:

• 25 crew personnel

• 22 motor vehicles, including five vibroseis buggies, one fuel truck, five ATVs, five crew cab transport vehicles, one recording truck, one recording support truck, one vibrator service truck, and four line trucks for moving equipment.

Latoski said that Nodal Seismic "made it very clear to us that no bulldozing or clearing of vegetation would be conducted," and that all staging areas, waste management, equipment storage, etc. would take place on private land.

Even with the permit limited to public roads, there are still complaints from residents in Golden Valley not used to seeing the large equipment.

"They were not notified in advance, and that was the biggest complaint. Why weren't they notified?" asked Mohave County Supervisor Jean Bishop.

"The other complaints we're getting is that they're tearing up the roads and that they look like military vehicles," she added.

Nodal Seismic couldn't be reached for comment.

Drilling and mineral rights

Drilling in Mohave County isn't common. According to Steven Rauzi from the Arizona Geological Survey, there isn't a lot of oil and gas potential in the county. Previous exploration in the 1980s didn't find much.

"There's a lot of salt, but I would say that there is low potential for oil and gas," said Rauzi.

He didn't rule out the possibility, however, saying that salt does store pockets of oil and gas well.

Rauzi also said that the Cordilleran Shelf, which extends into northwestern Arizona near the Arizona Strip, could possibly have thrusts that extend as far south as Kingman.

While Nodal Seismic isn't tied to any drilling company at this time, finding oil or gas in Golden Valley could lead to some changes for residents.

"It could be good for economic development," said Bishop. "Land values would increase. The people that live in Golden Valley, they live there because it's remote and quiet. It would be a big change in lifestyle, if they hit big pockets of oil.

"It's really hard to predict. It would be advantageous if oil were found on your property, although most people don't have mineral rights to their property."

Mineral rights would play a major role in property values in the event large amounts of oil or gas were found, as they are what allows an entity to exploit what lies below the surface. A study on property values in New York in 2011 found that property values increase when oil and gas drilling is nearby, but only if the property is tied to the mineral rights below.

The mineral rights can vary greatly depending on the property. Some property owners may own the rights to the minerals and oil and gas underneath. Many may not, and it all depends on the deed.

In Arizona, there are mineral rights and oil and gas rights, both of which can be leased out separately.

The state can also lease out those rights, and in the state-owned lands located in Golden Valley, the current lessee is Vanterra Energy Inc., an oil and gas exploration corporation based out of Denver.

Half the mineral rights and oil and gas rights in Mohave County, due to congressional acts dating back to 1866, still reside with the railroads. Every odd section is currently owned by BNSF Railway, according to BNSF spokesperson Joseph Faust.