Recent History – 1999
By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff — February 1, 1999
The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but as far as people like Ross McKellar and Jack Hillestad are concerned, a straight line is not going to get them very far.
Employees of Aguila Exploration Consultants, McKellar and Hillestad lay out seismic lines for a living. And especially when they’re on Crown land, the paths they make are determined as much by nature as by geometry. Although the overall intention is to connect two points, concerns such as keeping the larger trees intact, avoiding creeks and streams, and generally keeping the impact to as little as possible make for a windy path. “The less impact we can have on the environment, the better,” McKellar said.
It’s a far cry from the days when seismic lines were effectively 10- to 15-metre-wide roads cut straight through the bush. Now, the lines are usually no more than five metres wide, cleared by small machinery capable of taking a meandering route through the forest. Tread marks are kept to a minimum as are the effects on tree roots sticking out of the ground.
And, when circumstances warrant, the machinery is disbanded in favour of a man with a chainsaw, cutting a line no more than two to three metres wide. That was the case when a seismic line was cut through the Bear Mountain cross country ski trails at the community forest. If not for the orange markers to guide the way, one would be hard pressed to notice the trail.
Keeping an eye on such work are Dale Suderman and Al Rodine of the Ministry of Forests. Much of the procedure that is to be followed is now spelled out in the Forest Practices Code, but such methods have long been in use. “A lot of the steps here have taken place because of government and industry working together,” Suderman said. “This was done before the Forest Practices Code, so the Forest Practices Code really, I don’t think changed a lot.”
While many people see the winding paths as an opportunity to explore some new area, there are still times, however, when a straight line if preferred. “On private land people sometimes ask us not to do this,” McKellar said. ÒThey want a straight cut-line all the way through to put in a road or a fence or something.
“But as a rule, most people when they see this, say this is beautiful. Now they can ride their horses through here, the kids can snowmobile through here or whatever.”
Even so, within a couple of years, nature will once again have taken over through the process of natural decay, blowdowns, and new plants and grass. “Within two years you’d have to use a chainsaw to get down one of these with a quad,” Hillestad said.
Cutting the seismic line is the first step in the process used to explore for oil and gas sites. Drilling equipment will be brought in next to drill holes to various depths. Into those holes will go small explosive charges, while special sound sensors are laid out along the line.
Using complicated recording devices, the sound those explosives will make is used to pick up the reflections off different formations below the ground as a way to give an idea where gas and oil can be found.
About 20 people living in the Peace Region are employed by Calgary-based Aguila in different capacities, such as line clearing with the cats, hand cut work with the chainsaws, trucking, and industrial first aid. McKellar conservatively estimates that some 1,000 kilometres of line has been cut by Aguila in the Peace region in the past year, amounting to between $12 million and $15 million of work.
It’s the kind of work that McKellar, who has been in the business for about 20 years, would like to continue to do. And, according to Rodine, the best way to ensure that is to continue to do quality work.
“We were really concerned about the trail work on the ski trail and it’s almost like a protected area. It’s not, but that’s the way we try to manage it.,” he said. “So when they can come in and do their work and the skiers and everybody can still be happy, we’re pretty excited.”