Press "Enter" to skip to content

Petro-Seekers Plan Seismic Testing Near Old Provo Weapons Dump

Back in January, the Obama Administration rejected six permit applications from companies seeking to use seismic testing to hunt for oil off our nation’s Eastern seaboard. The Trump Administration wants to revive those applications so petro-hunters can go thumping the sea floor for echoes of oil.

Greenpeace says seismic testing is bad for ocean critters:

These airguns use compressed air to generate intense pulses of sound 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Their loud blasts are used on a recurring basis, going off every ten seconds, for 24 hours a day, often for weeks on end. They are so loud that they penetrate through the ocean and miles into the seafloor, then bounce back, bringing information to the surface about the location of buried oil and gas deposits.

Airgun blasts harm whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish. The types of impacts marine mammals may endure include temporary and permanent hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, beach strandings, and even death. Seismic airguns could devastate marine life, harming fisheries and coastal economies along the Atlantic coast [Greenpeace, “Seismic and Sonar Testing,” retrieved 2017.05.15].

Some landowners in Fall River County, a fair distance from any sensitive whales and sea turtles, are hiring a private company to use seismic testing to look for oil and gas. John D. Taylor describes the process:

Seismic testing involves a large metal plate pushed down on top of the earth, through which are sent high-frequency vibrations, called seismic waves. The waves are created by either a dynamite blast or a specialized air gun. The waves bounce back (reflect or refract) in the rock strata, and are recorded by receivers known as geophones. Oil and gas geologists can “read” the seismographs generated by the testing unit to determine if there are pockets of oil or natural gas below. Think of it as something like using a fish finder [John D. Taylor, “Seismic Crews Want to Test up to 46,000 Acres Northwest of Provo for Oil and Gas,” Hot Springs Star, 2017.05.09].

U.S. Forest Service Hot Springs staffer Mike McNeil gave the Fall River County Commission a map showing the proposed seismic testing area around Provo, about eight miles south of Edgemont. The map, included in the commission’s May 2 agenda packet, bears the logo of Paragon Geophysical Services, Inc., a Wichita-based seismic testing company:

Map of seismic testing area, included in Fall River County Commission agenda packet, 2017.05.02.
Map of seismic testing area, included in Fall River County Commission agenda packet, 2017.05.02.

No whales on that map—what could possibly go wrong with pounding the ground with dynamite and air guns?

Did you notice “Black Hills Army Depot” written on that map? What’s out there?

The trenches were used to bury weapons, including chemical agents in containers, bombs and rockets, around BHAD, [Edgemont rancher Susan] Henderson said. This included M55 rockets.

A 1990s Congressional study showed that thousands of these rockets were filled with chemical agents. Today, some 50 -75 years after they were buried, a Sandia Labs study showed these rockets are destabilizing and could “auto ignite.” Also, when the temperature of the rocket rises above 55 degrees it can ignite. There have been multiple “blow-ups” of these rockets in other areas where the rockets were stored, she told the commissioners, worrying that seismic testing could set off a chain reaction of rockets in trenches.

Chemical warfare gas-filled rockets and bombs were also buried in bunkers, she said.

“There were hundreds of thousands of tons of chemical warfare agents stored or buried underground, 368,000 tons of Sarin alone” she said, “along with GB, VX, mustard gas, terrible Nazi stuff and secret stuff that no one knows about” [Taylor, 2017.05.09].

Terrible Nazi stuff? Among the numerous nefarious munitions listed in this BHAD inventory, one of the first disposed packages consisted of “Captured German Chemicals.”

TCT-St. Louis, "Final Archives Search Report: Preliminary Assessment of Ordnance Contamination at the Former Black Hills Army Depot, South Dakota," Prepared for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 1992, p. 5-5.
TCT-St. Louis, “Final Archives Search Report: Preliminary Assessment of Ordnance Contamination at the Former Black Hills Army Depot, South Dakota,” Prepared for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October 1992, p. 5-5.

Now I don’t think seismic testing is going to trigger Hydra’s Obelisk, but I can understand area ranchers’ concern that thumping the ground with dynamite could disturb some unexploded ordnance.

Then again, oil and gas exploration isn’t a new development in Fall River County. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources maps all sorts of oil and gas wells in the Edgemont-Provo area:

Oil and gas drilling in southwest Fall River County; adapted from DENR map, January 2017
Oil and gas drilling in southwest Fall River County; adapted from DENR map, January 2017.

In 2016, Fall River County produced 17,928 barrels of oil, compared to 343 barrels in Custer County and 1,388,399 barrels in Harding County. DENR shows no marketed gas produced in Fall River County in 2016.

I don’t know of any wildcatters getting blown up in Fall River County yet, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful setting off dynamite and air guns near the old munitions dump. If seismic testing can upset whales, it can probably upset old, deteriorating, unexploded chemical weapons.


  1. David B. 2017-05-15

    I wonder how this news will affect sales of the survival bunkers a company called Vivos is trying to sell at the former Black Hills Army Depot? A mere $25,000 down plus a 99-year land lease of $1,000 per year gets you the survival bunker of your dreams. According to their website, you may bring as many friends and family as you like to accommodate in your private bunker, at NO EXTRA CHARGE!!!

  2. Donald Pay 2017-05-15

    I was on the Restoration Advisory Board for the Army Corps clean-up effort at the Black Hills Army Depot for several years in the 1990s. There was some documentation of the hazards and some clean up done then, but I never thought it was adequate. I’m not sure what was done or not done after I left the RAB.

    Most of the really bad munitions were carted off in the late 60s, but there was always a question about what might have been missed or deeply buried. The really bad areas were the burning grounds and the chemical areas, which were marked as “surface use only” when the Army finally abandoned the depot. That meant grazing was allowed, but no drilling, no digging. The BHAD got sold off in pieces to various private concerns, one of which was a hog operation. Then in the late 1970s some folks were eyeing it for a hazardous waste site. Then, a few years after that, Chem-Nuclear wanted to use it for a nuclear waste dump. After that was defeated, another part of the depot was the site of the sewage ash scam. During all this time one Henderson or another has been in a constant fight to get the site cleaned up and not further trashed.

    I don’t think the Forest Service should allow a seismic operation on the former BHAD, or anywhere close enough that it could disturbed potentially buried munitions.

  3. grudznick 2017-05-15

    What if they blew the whole place up with like one of those MOAB things? No nuclear fallout, explode everything that needs exploding, then you can go in with dozers and smooth it all out again and make it productive land like all the rest of the area around Edgemont. Move all the critters out of there first, of course.

  4. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-15

    Uh…no. That would disperse everything into the air, water, and soil…and would affect more people as a result.

    Can’t say whether environmental remediation with plants would be helpful or not. But that would take a long time.

    It is not like people are willing to pay for a facility to process the topsoil, remove the toxins, and put a renewed soil back. Nor is there likely anywhere that will agree to store the toxins or the dirt in bulk.

  5. Adam 2017-05-16

    This sh!t is insane!

    I can hardly believe this is happening. If they do this while ISL mining is also destabilizing the underground rocks and aquifers, it could be so disastrously stupid of us all to have somehow stood by enough to have somehow let this happen.

    God save us. Seriously.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-16

    Dave! Maybe it’s the bunker company that’s looking for oil. Maybe they want to connect their bunker buyers with their own personal oil wells to keep their furnaces and four-wheelers running for their great-great grandchildren!

  7. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-16

    Are you saying that ISR mining is being proposed on the grounds of this depot?

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-16

    No, no, no—the ISR uranium site is north of Edgemont. I’m saying the bunker company could offer good-old-fashioned oil derricks as options on the bunkers. “Ride out The End of Oil with your own oil supply!”

  9. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-16

    Sorry, my question was for Adam :^).

    Why not have some boutique bunkers powered by solar energy, or put a wind turbine on top of the oil derrick?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-16

    Whoops! Sorry to misconnect, Robert!

    A bunker is below motorcycle on my list of investments, and motorcycle is still below pedal-powered family four-wheeler. But if I were going to get a bunker, I’d invest in a wind turbine before a solar panel, since I’m of the impression that, in bunker-anarchy world, I could fix a wind turbine more easily than a solar panel.

    Then again, a wind turbine would have to stick up higher and make me more visible to marauders. Dang it! Better go with geothermal.

  11. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-16

    Oh no, you would have to drill a borehole to do geothermal :^). Can’t have that.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-16

    Arrgghh! Then I’ll put my bunker in Mexico, where I won’t need heat in the winter and I’ll have more sunshine for my survival garden. Plus, I’ll get to practice my Spanish.

  13. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-16

    Actually, I do think there are areas of South Dakota that would be well-served by boreholes for geothermal only. Of all the deep borehole sites, South Dakota could make the best case for geothermal instead of waste disposal. But good luck trying to convince anyone of that.

    Probably Trump will slap a nice tariff on your bunker when it crosses the border. Oh great, now you are supporting the wall by going to Mexico ;^).

  14. John 2017-05-16

    Geez, you skipped the part of the article re-documenting the grotesque death of over a thousand sheep on the land, a documentation by the government.

    Sure do the seismic testing. Just so long as the ‘ranchers’ and their families, and ‘economic development critters’ supporting this madness are forced to be on site, breathe the air, drink the water – for the duration. Pony up your cojones, your kids, and grandkids – it’s all about personal responsibility, sportsfans.

    This toilet bowl of South Dakota was unable to qualify as a site for a NYC/east coast garbage dump or as a super fund storage site. Stop reinforcing failure. Stupid decisions were made for this ground generations ago – do not compound them.

  15. Adam 2017-05-16

    Sometimes, it seems like McTaggart would support a new borehole even if it were proposed to go right up his butt.

  16. Adam 2017-05-18

    I’m sorry. I was just trying to be funny. I mean, ever since that nuclear-class borehole proposal, it’s almost like the guy would borehole his own canoe.

    Maybe it woulda helped if I put a ;) in there…

  17. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-18

    No, that was not appropriate. If your argument is strong, you don’t have to stoop to such tactics.

    Boreholes may be considered for the toxic elements from solar and wind waste too. You can’t make the final residues disappear. And you cannot wish them away. The best you can do is isolate them. The dirty secret is that there is going to be a lot of such waste from solar and wind. So if you want a lot of wind and solar…guess what…you will have to deal with the waste.

    That is why the research should continue to make that isolation as safe as possible. If the waste is not coming here, then you should want such a process to be as safe as possible for someone else. If the waste were coming here, you would want the process to be even safer, which it cannot be without the research.

    Moving forward, nuclear, solar, and wind need to do more work to generate less waste and enhance recycling as much as possible. For nuclear that means the advanced reactors that can consume the isotopes. Heck, why not consume the solar and wind wastes too with those reactors and reduce the chemical toxicity of the final residues?

    Nuclear can help load following for renewables without carbon, and it can help reduce the toxicity of the waste residues.

  18. Adam 2017-05-18

    Ya know what, if you can call South Dakota a toilet bowl on this blog, then I can call McTaggart a nuclear-grade troll – and I believe it is instructive, useful, and appropriate for a new reader to have this heads up.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-18

    Yeah, heads-up…I’m pro-nuclear. Good job Adam.

  20. Adam 2017-05-18

    You are way more than that. You contort almost everything into a nuclear conversation. You’re not just pro-nuclear – you’re OBSESSED with nuclear – thinking you could solve almost every world problem if you could just educate all the liberals about nuclear.

    It’s tiring and boring. I’d bet your students struggle to stay awake in class.

  21. Robert McTaggart 2017-05-18

    Guilty as charged…passionate about nuclear…no doubt.

    The liberal position should be to mitigate the effects of climate change. Nuclear AND RENEWABLES should be able to do it.

    Liberals should also want the majority of the world out of poverty. It takes a lot of energy to do the latter with more technology, so it had better be a lot of clean energy.

    Makes absolutely no sense if we one day generate more TOTAL carbon, even if the amount per kilowatt-hour is less than today. That can happen as the world consumes ever more kilowatt-hours and relies on natural gas back-up without nuclear.

    So if you can deliver on energy storage, or carbon capture for natural gas, while meeting everybody’s energy demands without nuclear…great. But I don’t see that happening with 10 billion people or more with our standard of living.

  22. Miranda Gohn 2017-05-18

    Rob, I am willing to take a hard look at nuclear energy as a reliable base load source with CO2 building up with a major concern of the Siberian and Artic Circle methane gas pockets trapped with the fear of them thawing, releasing and speeding up climate change, ocean acidification, corals bleaching, collapse of the oceanic food chain and fisheries with extreme swings in weather. Then there is the loss of access to clean water. The risk of global conflict increases and our military is well aware of it.

    Hydroelectric dams are being dismantled due to blocking spawning of various aquatic species some of which are endangered. Then we have silt build up in rivers such as the Missouri River near Springfield partly due to the dams going up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.