RETROSPECTIVE (2008 to mid 2011)
In the early spring of 2010, a man appeared at our house to ask to take GPS readings of our well and the pond. He was apologetic and told us he was from Florida but had been unemployed until he got this position. He said the reading was needed for the gas company to know the location of our water well. At this time, I was told that the gas companies could safely drill within 350 feet of a well. He took the location of the well, and our pond, and I made sure he knew that the small woods next to us was officially considered a wetlands, which he said he would indicate. After he left, I paced off 350 feet into the farmer’s fields which surround our home and are leased - the proximity was disturbing.
Later that day I noticed that this man had tied plastic flags all around, some orange and others blue. They were tied to old corn stalks in the field, to branches in trees in the woods and were also at the end of our driveway. I contacted the number on the card he left me and was told that the flags showed the seismic testers where to insert charges that would give them a reading on the geology beneath the ground. The blue stood for the access roads and the orange for the areas where the lines for the charge would be run. I told him that I didn’t want any employees using our driveway, and he replied that according to his records, I had approved it. I informed him that I had not signed any papers, so he dug through his files and discovered that there had been a ‘mistake’.
He suggested I sign the agreement to have my property seismically tested because it would “make your property more valuable should you wish to sell it”, but I declined. To my way of thinking, if they don’t have a seismic reading of my property (which would be left blank on the map), then perhaps they wouldn’t drill a well so close to me. My property would certainly be more valuable without a massive five acre well pad next to it. I was beginning to realize that this is what could happen.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from the seismic testing company asking for permission to test under my property. I checked off “No, I don’t want any tests done” and mailed it back.
Shortly after this, I noticed that stakes had been set in the field next to us with similar orange flags attached. There were about 6 spread out across the field. Later when the farmer who owned the field cut his hay, he had to cut around the stakes which remained there all summer.
I heard many stories that summer from others who had come home to find stakes placed on their property or men in green t-shirts on their property placing the stakes without any prior notice. I also heard about farmers trying to plow or mow their fields becoming entangled in the lines laid across their fields, apparently with no consideration for their farming routines.
During this time, we were also hearing lots of booming sounds off in the distance, right at dusk every evening. These sounds, like distant thunder, went on for at least a month, then stopped. Was it related to seismic testing, or perhaps to blasting in a gravel quarry? We never did learn what the booming was all about. Again, another mystery.
Unusual wildlife behavior
One day in the late spring, I was standing outside when I saw a bear come moving rapidly across the field. Bears are not a rare sighting where I live, but one that is running and in full sight is unusual. Normally they mosey their way from one place to another, unperturbed by the humans watching them. I wondered what had caused it to run at such speed, but moments later I saw it running back across the field. This struck me as very odd behavior. About ten minutes later, I was down at the stable when I noticed a fox running across the top of our horse pasture and then making a beeline toward me. I was concerned that it was rabid, but when I shouted at it, it looked around as though it hadn’t realized what it was doing, and then it took off in another direction.
This unusual wildlife behavior disturbed me. I found myself wondering whether all the activity accompanying seismic testing, in the woods and in the fields, was flushing out the wildlife and sending them into a panic. I feel a deep affinity for these creatures of the woodlands and have always paused to embrace their wild beauty when gifted with a glimpse of them. While I found the unexpected appearances of men in hard hats, with all their equipment and booming loudspeakers, very intrusive, I was much more concerned about the effect all this noise and activity might be having on wildlife.
Helicopters deliver seismic testing gear
Then came the helicopters. Not a few helicopters, lots of helicopters, and all day long for weeks they hummed noisily in the air, dropping their swinging satchels of seismic gear throughout the county. In the roads were crews of men in bright green shirts and hard hats, while along the roads were the orange and blue flags everywhere. The road leading away from our home is lined with old maple trees and woods, cornfields and meadows. It was disconcerting to see plastic flags dotting the view that I’d enjoyed for so long in its simple, organic beauty. It reminded me of what was encroaching into my world.
One day that fall I took a walk across the field and saw that more activity had occurred. There were cables snaking through the woods (following the orange flags) into the field and over to one of the stakes, and attached to them was some kind of device just beyond the woods that apparently had to do with discharging the explosives (photos below).
Seismic testing gear is removed
I'm not sure what happened to hold up the seismic testing because the man I talked to on the phone said that it would happen in August (2010), but there was no more overt activity until January of 2011 when a truck with 3 men parked in front of our house, and we watched them trudge through the snow to a point where there might have been a stake. The men left the truck running while doing this, and we got whiffs of diesel fumes as it blew into our yard. I walked out to meet them on their return to the truck and told the man in charge that we didn’t want them accessing the field using our driveway. He was apologetic.
Finally, in the spring of 2011, I heard more helicopter activity close by and looked out the window to see, just next to the woods, a man standing directly below a circling ‘copter and clipping a satchel of seismic gear that had been left in the field all winter, onto a hanging line. Away went the package, swinging beneath the helicopter, as the man slipped back into the woods. The stakes disappeared shortly after that and finally the flags. I wasn’t disappointed to see them go.
Top:Seismic testing gear within protective satchel.
Bottom: Tangle of cables in a nearby field.
Photos by Chloe Kelly