LONG BEACH — Workers and residents near the city's municipal airport may feel vibrations next month that they might mistake for a small, distant earthquake.
Actually, the tremors will be man-made shaking caused by a company hired by Texaco Inc., searching for oil and gas.
Texas-based Geophysical Services Inc. will test nearly five miles of Cherry Avenue, from the north city boundary to Spring Street, looking for signs that the underground structures have the potential for either oil or gas.
If there is such evidence, the next step is exploratory drilling.
"To find oil, you have to drill an oil well, because you don't know. There's no science," explained Gary Bennett, Geophysical Services' west coast manager.
While some may not be aware of the vibrations, others will feel the slight tremor, which Bennett said is similar to "a truck driving past your house."
The testing was approved by the City Council on Tuesday and will be the first to follow guidelines in a proposed ordinance regulating such surveys, said Raymond T. Holland, the city's public works director.
Complaints of Damage
The city began working in late 1984 on an ordinance to regulate geophysical surveys, after some residents complained they had not been warned about vibrations before a similar survey by another company, according to Gary Metzger of the city's public works engineering department.
People also complained about noise, especially when companies conducted tests late at night and early in the morning, and a handful said that their homes suffered structural damage and that belongings such as frames and glasses were knocked off shelves, Metzger said.
Complaints that the testing caused cracks in homes were investigated and proven false, Metzger said. "After feeling a vibration, they start checking around the house and see a crack they didn't notice before," Metzger said.
But the noise complaints were legitimate, city officials said, and that's why the proposed ordinance restricts the surveys to daytime hours. Other regulations in the draft ordinance include requiring the company to provide liability insurance, Holland said.
Geophysical Service Inc. will send letters to property owners, residents and businesses in the area, advising them of the testing and telling them to secure objects that "could possibly vibrate off the shelves."
City and company officials emphasized the survey is safe and the vibrations are monitored.
The testing is done with six trucks, which at intervals sit atop a pad which is vibrated, explained Herb McRoy, a consultant for the firm. The signals returned from the subsurface are detected by sensitive "geophones." The geophones are connected by a non-electric cable placed along the curb or sidewalk to a computer which receives the data that may lead them eventually to oil.
Oil companies pick the sites they want to test, Bennett said, adding he did not know why Texaco picked Cherry Avenue, between Spring Street and Poppy Street, for this survey. The survey will last about six days in June, he said.