HEBER SPRINGS, Ark., (USACE) -- Natural gas companies have been conducting seismic surveys at Greers Ferry Lake to determine whether there are underground formations beneath the lake and surrounding public lands that could yield natural gas. These licenses are for exploration purposes only. They are not licenses to drill for or extract natural gas.
The explorations have been taking place under three licenses issued by the Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District. The first license was issued in December 2009 to Gateway Permit Services LLC for exploration in the vicinity of Cherokee Park. The second one was issued in April 2010, also to Gateway, for explorations in the vicinity of Fairfield Bay in Van Buren County. Work on both of these licenses has been completed.
The third and current license covers an 8,508-acre area in Cleburne County. This license was issued in October 2010 to Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Work must be completed by Sept. 30, 2011. The license contains special conditions to protect the long-term environment, and many precautions have been taken.
During the testing, sound waves are sent into the ground via fast burning charges placed in holes no deeper than 11 feet. Recorders measure how long it takes for the waves to reflect back to the surface. Resulting data reveals a profile of the rock below.
The Corps has received questions from people who are curious about helicopters flying around the lake. Where there are no roads to access test sites, the companies have used helicopters instead of causing long-term damage by cutting new roads. The Corps has not allowed roads to be built on public land to accommodate gas exploration.
Chesapeake Energy is also collecting seismic data from the lake using air guns from a pontoon boat. The air guns are submersed 3 to 5 feet below the water's surface, and they release compressed air toward the bottom of the lake, creating a recordable sound wave. Representatives from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are on hand during this testing to assess potential impacts and shut down the testing if necessary. The Corps also issued a Department of the Army Permit for this work.
Chesapeake Energy normally would be required to pay fair market value for its license, which would amount to $42,540. Rather than have Chesapeake make a cash payment, the Corps used an authorization that allows in-kind services and asked Chesapeake to construct seven courtesy docks to serve the general public for years to come. Those docks are complete and ready for the public to use. The docks are at Old Highway 25 Park, Heber Springs Park, Cove Creek Park, Cherokee Park, Choctaw Park, and two at Dam Site Park.
Should natural gas deposits be discovered, energy companies would have to determine who holds the mineral rights and obtain permission to extract the natural gas. On some tracts of land, the Corps owns the mineral rights. On other tracts, the Corps did not purchase them when buying land to build Greers Ferry Lake if they were reserved by others.
Regarding any government-owned mineral rights, the Bureau of Land Management would become involved. Other state and federal agencies could also be involved to address potential environmental or other issues within their jurisdictions.
The Corps has allowed gas explorations because they are short-term activities that do not cause lasting impacts, and the agency has no authority to prohibit ongoing searches for energy sources. The Corps continues to work with other agencies to protect the lake environment.
These explorations will have no impact on the safety of Greers Ferry Dam.
The Corps will not allow drilling rigs on the Greers Ferry Lake project. There are potential scenarios where gas could be extracted from under Greers Ferry project by using drill rigs positioned off project property. This could possibly occur even without Corps permission in places where the mineral rights were reserved by others.
The Corps will not allow drilling companies to withdraw water from Greers Ferry Lake for the drilling processes (hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracing'). Water would have to be purchased from a water utility or obtained from some other source.
Natural gas exploration has taken place at other Little Rock District projects – Nimrod, Blue Mountain, Ozark and Dardanelle lakes. Some gas well drilling has been allowed using traditional methods, but not hydraulic fracturing.