Monday, March 28, 2005


The Enemy of My Enemy is Dead

By Gary Brecher ( )

Looks like things might be heating up again in Lebanon. Somebody blew up the ex-President of the country with a suicide Buick. The bomb-ee was a billionaire named Rafik Hariri, a local boy who'd made good. He went to Saudi Arabia with nothing, made friends with the royal family, and came back worth $4 billion. There's a whole lot of money in the construction business in Saudi Arabia. Just ask the bin Ladens -- that's how they made enough money to send little Osama on those expensive Jihad tours.

What gets me is why anybody with Hariri's money would go into politics when they could be tanning in Maui. Especially Lebanese politics. There's no place in the world with a gorier history. Their motto is "One detonator, one vote." I guess these billionaires just get so cocky they think they can't be killed.

Or maybe the last few years sort of lulled Hariri into a false sense of security. Lebanon's been quiet for a while. The Israelis pulled out of Southern Lebanon in 2000, and the Syrians took their troops out of Beirut a year later. Things were cooling off, and rich Arabs were even starting to book weekends at Lebanese beach resorts.

But you can always count on something to go wrong here. The whole country is a mirage anyway, shoved onto the locals by the Brits and French after WW I. Until 1918, it was just another province in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The Turks owned most of the Middle East, and the Arabs stuck to local clan loyalties. Nobody had any idea that there were "countries" like Iraq, or Syria, or Lebanon.

Then came WWI. The Ottomans made the mistake of siding with Germany, so the Brits started infiltrating the Turkish Empire, stirring up the Arabs. And they were real good at it. Still are, for that matter. You'll notice their part of Iraq is a lot quieter than anybody else's.

If you've seen that great old movie Lawrence of Arabia, you may remember the ending, when Peter O'Toole stomps off in his white dress because he knows the Brits are going to betray their Arab allies. Well, that's pretty much accurate. All through the war, the Brits promised everybody everything. They promised the Arab nationalists they'd get one big, united Arab Republic stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean; they promised the desert warrior chieftains (Lawrence's boys) that they'd get a big kingdom covering exactly the same ground; and they promised the Jews they'd get a homeland in Palestine, right in the middle of that republic, or kingdom, or whatever they were calling it.

When peace broke out in 1918, everybody showed up wanting what they'd been promised. The Brits started making deals fast, divvying up the whole neighborhood into "countries" called Syria, Iraq, Transjordan (Jordan), Palestine and Lebanon.

So on the map, there was this new "country," Lebanon. But on the ground, there was nothing but a bunch of ethnic gangs ready to turn on each other in a second. Lebanon has some of the weirdest militias in the world. What makes it unique is that a lot of the Arabs here are Christian, not Muslim. They call themselves Maronites, and they hung on all through the Muslim conquests, sticking close to the Lebanese hills and mountains -- good defensible positions.

A lot of these Maronites emigrated in the 1800s, and a lot of Muslim Arabs moved in and outbred them. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: in the 20th century, birthrate was the most powerful weapon of all, and the Muslims, especially the Shia, had a phenomenal birthrate. Pretty soon the Maronites were on the defensive, and it was chronic war between their gangs and the Muslims. Real nasty war too, like the Balkans in a smaller court: massacres, assassinations, rapes, tortures -- and naturally, no real battles.

It's not just Christian vs. Muslim, either. We're talking Arabs here, so naturally the lineups are shifting all the time. Some of the nastiest massacres were by one Christian militia against another. I read this one account -- man, I'll never forget it -- about how one of the Christian warlords found out his fellow Christians in another militia were having a big picnic on the beach, so he jumped them right in the middle of the volleyball game. What happened after that was pretty sick, even for Lebanon: first, the attackers mowed down the men of the rival clan, then they took the leader of the beaten militia, dragged him over to where they were keeping his female relatives, and made him watch while they gang-raped all the girls and women, then slit their throats one by one.

Now try imagining what happens when you introduce a whole new player to a game like that. That's what happened in 1948, when Israel was created and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees fled north to Lebanon.

Suddenly it was a multi-sided war: Maronite Christians vs. Sunni vs. Shia vs. Palestinian vs. Syrian. We sent American troops to calm things down in 1958, and Lebanon chugged along, more or less, until the big blow-up in 1975. That's when the Lebanese Civil War started. 18 months later, about 45,000 people were dead, another 200,000 had been wounded, whole villages and neighborhoods just vanished, and the country was a Syrian province, patrolled by an "Arab Deterrent Force" that was 90% Syrian troops. Militarily, it was a tough fight to follow -- like a giant gang fight in NYC.

The Christian militias called themselves "the Lebanese Forces," and their mostly-Muslim enemies were the "Lebanese National Movement." After a year and a half, the only sure thing was that the Christian militias, who started out with the advantage in training and weapons, hadn't done as well as expected. The Muslims, and especially the Shia, fought better than expected.

The PLO had actually tried to stay out of the fight in the beginning, but got drawn in after the Christian militias took a Palestinian refugee camp in East Beirut and did what came naturally -- killed everybody they could catch, that is. The PLA, the armed wing of the PLO, jumped in against them at that point and turned the tide.

The Muslims took a lot of Christian hilltop villages and looked to be winning. At that point, in Spring 1976, one of the weirdest turns in the war happened: the Syrian Army intervened AGAINST the Muslim forces. They took a lot of heat from other Muslim countries, but they were thinking about their own interests, not Islam, and they didn't want a radical Palestinian/Islamic state to their West. Some of the hardest fighting of the war came when the Syrian Army went up against the Palestinian/Muslim forces.

It's worth remembering that. Syria's not as simple as Bush's people make it out to be. A lot of guys in the CIA, like this Robert Baer guy who wrote that Saudi expose, consider Syria a serious force against Muslim craziness in the Middle East. The Syrians proved they were serious about that by wiping out the Muslim Brotherhood in Aleppo, along with a whole lot of unlucky civilians, when the Brothers tried to stage a religious uprising. It's a real mistake to lump the Baathist secularists in the Syrian government with Iran and Libya -- they're different animals.

At the level of weapons and tactics, Lebanon had some real important lessons for future warfare. For one thing, it was mostly an urban war, and what we're re-learning in Iraq right now is that we better find out how to do irregular urban warfare if we're going to have a future running this planet. There are more than six billion of us around, and we take up a lot of space. Nobody can afford to assume future war will happen on open ground.

People assume that Lebanon was just small-arms combat between little squads of infantry, but that's wrong. Thanks to the flood of weapons in the Middle East, there was some serious armor involved in the urban battles. And it turned out that tanks weren't the best weapon for street fighting. Instead, the militias favored their Soviet anti-aircraft cannon vehicles, the ZSU-23. With its two- or four-barrel 23mm cannon firing hundreds of rounds in the time it would take a tank to get off a shot from its main cannon, the ZSU-23 could be used to wipe out snipers in an apartment building without risking infantry. They'd just pull up in front of the building and start hosing it down, like window washers. Once they'd stitched up every floor, you could moonwalk to the front entrance without any trouble.

Of course it was bad luck for any civilians still trying to live there, but that's one of the grim features of urban warfare: the civilian is always a human shield, like it or not.

The other weapon that proved itself in the street fighting... well, I probably don't have to tell you by now: it was the ol' reliable RPG. Simple to learn, unbreakable, light, and devastating. A magnificent weapon, as we're finding out the hard way in Iraq. It ended a lot of stalemates in the Beirut fighting. They trumped small arms every time.

Small arms are called that for a reason: they have to be perfectly aimed, or lucky, to hurt you. One thing you'll find in reading accounts of combat in built-up areas, or "urban canyons" as they call them in contemporary military studies, is that with all that cover, non-sniper fire is usually ineffective. Guys fire hundreds of rifle rounds at a shadow down the street, and it just keeps firing back.

That's where the RPG came into play. The militias found that instead of wasting ammo, it was better to get an RPG up, point it in the general direction of the enemy, then advance when it went off. Even if it didn't kill the enemy, the blast put them out of action for a good long time, long enough to overrun them.

Unfortunately, that's something else we're re-learning in Iraq: even when an RPG round misses, it breaks your concentration, opens you up to small-arms fire.

The US Army is doing some interesting stuff with urban tactics these days. I recommend this site on Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain (MOUT):

Have a look at their section on new weapons and we'll meet up next issue for Lebanon, Part 2, where I take us up to the present in this cool little beachside Hell of a country, including the Israeli Invasions of 1978 and 1982, the US intervention in 1982, and the Shia/Christian/Israeli three-sided war in South Lebanon.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

City of Water


Can an intricate and antiquated maze of tunnels continue to sustain New York?

The New Yorker

No one knows how many sandhogs are, at any given moment, working beneath the streets of New York City, but one morning this winter half a dozen men could be spotted gathering around a hole on the northwest corner of Tenth Avenue and Thirtieth Street. The hole, surrounded by a tall aluminum fence, was thirty feet wide and reinforced with concrete. A priest had visited months before, to offer a brief prayer: "May God be with all ye who enter here, that the earth shall return ye safely." Now, as the sun rose, the men stepped from the snow-covered ground into a green metal cage, which was suspended over the chasm by an enormous winch. They wore yellow slickers and rubber boots with steel tips; they carried, among other things, flashlights, scissors, cigarettes, cough drops, knives, extra socks, and several twenty-pound crates marked "explosives."

A worker who was to remain above ground pulled a lever, and the cage began to descend. As it accumulated speed, and the light from the surface grew thinner, James Ryan, one of the older men in the crew, peered over the edge into the void. He had a long, hard face flecked with scars. "We got nine cases of dynamite," he said. "That should be plenty."

His voice reverberated in the shaft as the men went down thirty, forty, fifty feet, then another fifty, then a hundred more. "Two hundred," one of them called out. By three hundred feet, they could no longer see anything above or below. Surrounded by darkness, and pressed closely together, the men exchanged sight for sound-the ping of dripping water, the echo of voices, the cable groaning overhead. At five hundred feet, the air became warmer, denser; one of the men put on a mask to keep out the dust that floated through the shaft. "All right," Ryan told me. "We're almost there."

A thin beam from a flashlight suddenly rose up from the bottom of the shaft, catching the men's faces. They were all part of the fraternity of sandhogs, a rare breed of tunnel digger whose name comes from the workers who excavated the soft earth under the Brooklyn Bridge in the eighteen-seventies. The men in the cage with me were mostly middle-aged, with barrel chests and knotted fingers; dust had already begun to streak the skin around their eyes. A bell sounded, and the cage came to a halt, bouncing up and down on the cable. "This is it," Ryan said. "Brace yourself." He unsealed the cage door. We were nearly six hundred feet underground.

Until that moment, I had only heard tales of New York City's invisible empire, an elaborate maze of tunnels that goes as deep as the Chrysler Building is high. Under construction in one form or another for more than a century, the system of waterways and pipelines spans thousands of miles and comprises nineteen reservoirs and three lakes. Two main tunnels provide New York City with most of the 1.3 billion gallons of water it consumes each day, ninety per cent of which is pumped in from reservoirs upstate by the sheer force of gravity. Descending through aqueducts from as high as fourteen hundred feet above sea level, the water gathers speed, racing down to a thousand feet below sea level when it reaches the pipes beneath the city.

It is a third water tunnel, however, that is the most critical. Designed to meet expanding demand and to serve as a backup system in case something ever happens to City Tunnel No. 1 or City Tunnel No. 2, City Tunnel No. 3 has been under development since 1969, and was initially billed as "the greatest nondefense construction project in the history of Western Civilization." Already, twenty-four people have died building it-roughly a man a mile-and it is not expected to be completed until 2020.

As an engineering feat, the water-tunnel system rivals the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. Yet it has the odd distinction that almost no one will ever see it, save for the sandhogs who are building it. Over the years, the men have constructed an entire city under the city, a subterranean world as cluttered as the Manhattan skyline: it includes four hundred and thirty-eight miles of subway lines, six thousand miles of sewers, and thousands of miles of gas mains. "If it's deeper than a grave," sandhogs often say, "then we built it." The water tunnels have become the sandhogs' greatest and most elusive achievement, an often deadly effort that has consumed generations. "I'll take you down there if you want," Jimmy Ryan had said when I asked him to show me the tunnel's newest section. "But, trust me, it ain't like Macy's down there."

A large, reticent man of fifty who prefers gestures-an upturned eyebrow or a curled lip-to words, he has spent nearly as many hours underneath the earth as above it. "I started working on the third water tunnel when I was a kid," he told me. "I'm still working on it, and I'll probably be buried in it." Ryan, who was elected president of the sandhogs' union, Local 147, in 1999, has trouble lifting his shoulders; his red hair has turned silver, and his broad chest is compressed, as if it were about to collapse.

After Ryan opened the cage, I stepped out with him and the other men into the bottom of the shaft. Water seeped down the sides of the opening and dripped on us. There was a pool at our feet, and as we moved forward the icy water spilled over the tops of our boots. I began to sink in the muck, and Ryan gave me his hand to pull me out.

"Don't stand under the shaft," he said. "If somethin' falls from the top, it'll go right through you." I looked up and could barely see the opening. Once, in Queens, a sixteen-ton winch fell down the shaft, crushing one worker and injuring seven others; another time, a man died after being impaled by a broken icicle.

As I followed Ryan into the tunnel's main artery, it was hard to orient myself. There were only a few scattered electric bulbs, suspended from wires clamped to rocks and shrouded in mist, and I blinked, trying to adjust to the watery light. Several of the men turned on flashlights; through the shadows I could see a hospital stretcher and emergency medical supplies propped against a wall. At last, the tunnel came into focus: a cramped, crumbling cavern that extended a hundred yards or so in either direction. This stage of Tunnel No. 3 will eventually run nine miles, reaching down to the Manhattan Bridge and looping up to Central Park; its walls will be honed into a smooth cylinder, ten feet in diameter and lined with concrete. But at this early stage swords of black schist-formed more than four hundred million years ago-hung from the ceiling, which was buttressed with steel bolts to prevent collapse. Ventilation pipes ran along the sides of the tunnel, circulating the choked air, which, unlike the freezing air at the surface, was nearly seventy degrees, a humid mist of dust and fumes.

The men split into two groups and went to opposite ends of the tunnel, where they began painting detailed patterns on the rock face. Moving out from the center of the rock, they carefully dabbed white dots about three feet apart, forming an elaborate grid. Then the sandhogs mounted hydraulic drills and bored a ten-foot-deep hole into each mark, their arms and legs rattling up and down, the lamps on their hard hats shaking.

As the men prepared the rock face, listening to each echo for any sign of danger, they spoke in a private language: a jackhammer was known as a "jack-leg"; a bucket, a "battleship"; the Nerf-like sponge used to clean a pipe was called a "rabbit." Sometimes, because of the noise, the men would simply draw images in the air, like mimes. After a while, they took out blowpipes, which blasted air and water into the holes, washing away the dirt. "Everything has to be done just right," Ryan told me.

With his knife, he opened one of the boxes of explosives. Inside were dozens of red sticks of dynamite. The men packed the sticks into the holes as if loading muskets. Each piece of dynamite was wired to the next, and soon dozens of cords crisscrossed the rock face. Then the men turned off the lights, one by one, until the tunnel was completely dark, except for a single flashlight that guided us back to the metal cage. "We need to be a thousand feet away," Ryan said, as we slowly rose to the surface. "It's not like the old days, when they'd blow the son of a bitch in your ear."

When we reached the street, the sun was fully in the sky, and Ryan squinted uncomfortably in the light. He leaned over a small detonator while the men cleared the intersection of pedestrians. A woman in a camel coat, who insisted that she was late for work, tried to force her way past. "One minute," Ryan said, cocking an eyebrow. Another sandhog put his hand on the T-shaped lever. "Now," Ryan said. The sandhog slammed the lever with both hands, yelling, "Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!"

There was a great roar, a percussive rumble that grew louder and louder. The sidewalk and fences began to tremble, along with the ground beneath our feet. The crane that was suspended above the hole rattled from side to side. One bystander looked up at the sky, then down at the ground, not sure what was happening. "Is it a bomb?" another asked. A plume of dust rose out of the shaft. Then everything fell silent. The tunnel had advanced another nine feet. "All right, hogs!" the foreman yelled. And before anyone noticed, Ryan and the other men vanished into the hole.

At the end of the day, the sandhogs congregated in the hog house, a small white shack with wooden benches, lockers, and a shower, inside the fenced area on Thirtieth Street. Yellow slickers, now black with mud, hung from hooks. A television set murmured in the corner, and several men stood around it in towels while another mopped the floor around their feet.

Ryan sat down at a table to talk with me. His elbow rested on his hard hat; a line of mud traced the side of his cheek. He had lost part of his hearing from the constant concussions, and he spoke louder than normal.

"No one wants to talk about it, but we're flirting with disaster," he said. Like the country's electricity grid, which recently left parts of the city in the dark for more than twenty-four hours, the city's water system is deeply antiquated. The old tunnels, Ryan explained, were leaking "like a sieve"; some of the sections were built nearly a century ago and were in desperate need of repair. But until Tunnel No. 3 is virtually complete there will be no way to fix them. In part, this is because getting inside Tunnel No. 1 or No. 2 would require the city to shut the water off, and without a backup supply there would be serious water shortages. But it was more than that, and, as several sandhogs peered over his shoulder, Ryan started to draw a circle on the table with his muddy finger. "See this?" he asked me. "These are the valves that control the flow of water."

"They're hundreds of feet underground," another sandhog said.

The valves were designed, Ryan said, to open and close guillotine-like gates inside the cylindrical tunnels, stopping the flow of water. But they had become so brittle with age that they were no longer operable. "They're afraid if they try to shut the valves they won't be able to turn 'em back on," Ryan said.

He wiped some mud from his eyes. "Look," he said. "If one of those tunnels goes, this city will be completely shut down. In some places there won't be water for anything. Hospitals. Drinking. Fires. It would make September 11th look like nothing."

Ryan wasn't the only one who spoke of the tunnel system's frailties, even if the others did so in slightly less alarming terms. One day this spring, I met Christopher Ward, the head of the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which is responsible for designing and operating the tunnel system. With a broad chest and a blunt, goateed chin, he looks more like a sandhog than a politician, and has a tendency to lean forward when he speaks, as if about to leap to his feet. "People don't want to acknowledge it, but the useful life of a tunnel does exist, and at some point it does start to fail," he said. The metal valves, in particular, degrade until they can no longer withstand the pressure. Ward said that the original two tunnels were so dilapidated that it was too risky to try to shut off the water and repair them until City Tunnel No. 3 was operational. He added that there is still time before the aging tunnels collapse-"We're not talking about today or tomorrow"-though it is impossible to predict how much.

Others are more pessimistic. One D.E.P. scientist told me, "Some of the aqueducts are already hemorrhaging water badly," while a recent study by Riverkeeper, an environmental organization, concluded, "In some cases, this extraordinary infrastructure is literally crumbling." Upstate, in the industrial town of Newburgh, for example, water has begun to pour out of cracks in the underground aqueduct that feeds into the city tunnels-so much that the leaks have created a giant sinkhole.

Many experts worry that the old tunnel system could collapse all at once. "Engineers will tell you if it fails it will not fail incrementally," said Ward. "It will fail catastrophically." If City Tunnel No. 1, which is considered the most vulnerable, caved in, all of lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, as well as parts of the Bronx, would lose its water supply. If the aqueducts gave out, the entire city would be cut off. "There would be no water," Ward told me. "These fixes aren't a day or two. You're talking about two to three years."

In the past, the city sometimes tried to assuage concerns about New York's water system, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently noted at a press conference that the aging pipelines were "very vulnerable" and that "this city could be brought to its knees if one of the aqueducts collapsed." Anthony DelVescovo, the project manager who has been working on City Tunnel No. 3 for nearly fifteen years, echoed Bloomberg's warning. "What no one knows is that we're facing a potential apocalypse," he told me. "It's a race against the clock."

It is hard to imagine a city without water, its faucets empty, its hydrants dry, its plazas filled not with fountains but with citizens suffering from diseases spread by dirt and desiccation-to imagine, as Charles Einstein put it in the title of his 1964 futuristic novel, "The Day New York Went Dry."

For much of its history, however, New York was a parched city. Though surrounded by the sea, its principal supply of freshwater remained, as late as the eighteenth century, a single fetid pool in lower Manhattan called the Collect Pond. Human waste was dumped into it, along with the occasional dead body. Distribution of water was dominated by racketeers known as teamen, who roamed the streets with giant casks, gouging customers. In 1785, with the city's population reaching nearly thirty thousand, the New York Journal published an open letter to government officials complaining that the water supply had become a "common sewer." One daily newspaper declared that it was "sickly and nauseating," adding, "The larger the city grows, the worse this evil will be."

Even as the paper warned that a "plague will make a yearly slaughter until you furnish better water," pestilence spread through the squalid streets. In 1798, yellow fever wiped out two thousand New Yorkers, and venders wandered the streets yelling, "Coffins of all sizes!" The plague returned in 1805, 1819, and 1822. "New Yorkers are like the rich man told of in the Parable," one resident noted in the local paper. "They have no clean cool water to slack their thirst when the flames of the plague are devouring their vitals."

One summer morning in 1832, two children woke up in Manhattan with severe pain in their intestines. They stopped urinating and were overcome by thirst; they began to vomit and their skin turned blue. By the next day, they were dead, and two days later so was their mother.

Asiatic cholera, an excruciating disease that is spread, in large part, by water contaminated with feces, had struck. In barely a month, two thousand New Yorkers were dead, their bodies marked by a bluish tinge and puckered extremities; more than a hundred thousand residents-half the city's population-fled to outlying villages. By the time the scourge ended, the death toll had reached more than three thousand. A group of doctors who visited the city at the time reported a "constant and imploring" cry: "Cold water, cold water, give us cold water!"

Finally, in the winter of 1834, the Common Council vowed to locate new sources of water. But before plans got under way a fire broke out near Wall Street. Without enough water to extinguish it-the rivers were frozen solid-the flames leaped from roof to roof, carried by a gale-force wind. Within minutes, the fire had spread from Exchange Place to Water Street, then on to Front and South Streets, and still onward. (The smoke was visible as far away as Philadelphia.) The fire burned for twenty-four hours, and after it had consumed nearly seven hundred buildings and caused such mass looting that the military was called in, roughly a third of New York City lay in ruins. One witness, who called it "the most awful calamity which has ever visited these United States," wrote, "I am fatigued in body, disturbed in mind, and my fancy filled with images of horror which my own pen is inadequate to describe."

And so at last the city began to construct its first aqueduct.

By today's standards, the Croton Aqueduct is modest in scope, but at the time it was considered an architectural marvel. Begun in 1837 and completed in 1842, it extended more than thirty miles, running from the Croton Reservoir down the east bank of the Hudson River-an elegant, eight-by-seven-foot brick pipeline. When it was finished, church bells rang out across the city and thousands poured into the streets to parade past new fountains, whose water sparkled in the sun. Philip Hone, who eventually became mayor of New York, wrote in his diary, "Nothing is talked of or thought of in New York but Croton water. . . . Water! water! is the universal note which is sounded through every part of the city, and infuses joy and exultation into the masses."

Twelve years later, however, the city's demand for water again exceeded supply, and the pressure in the pipeline fell so low that the water could no longer reach the third story of a building. By 1882, with thousands of immigrants arriving each week, the Times pleaded, "More Water Wanted," adding, "The health of families . . . was jeopardized because sufficient water could not be secured." Yet, unlike the previous century, when the city had looked on impassively at civic problems, there was now an almost evangelical faith in human progress. In 1905, Mayor George McClellan, who had just inaugurated the city's first subway system, laid out a vision of "an additional supply of pure and wholesome water," a vision so bold that it struck many as evidence of hubris. At an estimated cost of a hundred and eighty-five million dollars-3.7 billion in today's dollars-it would be the largest municipal water system in the world. In 1907, at the groundbreaking, McClellan declared, "The course of human events is not permanently altered by the great deeds of history, nor by the great men but by the small daily doings of the little men."

Before long, thousands of laborers arrived in the Catskill Mountains and began clearing away vegetation. Under the expansive McClellan Act, which one judge complained gave "power that the Almighty would not delegate to an archangel," the city appropriated more than twenty-five thousand acres of land, including hundreds of homes around the area of Shokan, which is just south of Woodstock. Nine villages were torn down, some burned to the ground, and nearly three thousand residents driven out; even cemeteries were dug up. "The trees are all cut down and the village is fading as a dream," the Kingston Freeman reported.

Then dams were built, water was diverted from streams in the Catskills, and rain was collected. The entire elevated basin was flooded, creating one of several reservoirs that, together, are nearly as large as the island of Manhattan. In photographs of the Shokan area taken before the flooding, the land is green and expansive; months later, it is covered by a glasslike inland sea.

Meanwhile, sandhogs burrowed through mountains and under hillsides to construct the Catskill Aqueduct, a ninety-two-mile conduit that slopes gently downhill from Shokan to Storm King Mountain and then down to White Plains. At one point, it crosses below the Hudson River, at a depth of eleven hundred feet-an achievement that New York City's new mayor, William Gaynor, called "one of the greatest engineering feats in history." The hardest part of the project, however, was yet to come. According to the engineers' elaborate design, water would flow from the aqueduct into a reservoir in Yonkers. From there, it would be channelled into another tunnel-one dug deep beneath the city, and able to withstand the pressure of more than half a billion gallons coursing through it each day. This water would then begin flowing upward, into smaller and smaller pipes, ultimately discharging into the millions of faucets around the city. Construction on what become known as City Tunnel No. 1 began in 1911. Many men went down once and never went back. Those who stayed received about two dollars a day. Once, under the strain, a riot erupted twelve hundred feet underground, and workers attacked each other with picks and shovels.

The situation was equally difficult on the banks of the East River. According to "Liquid Assets," a history of the city's water system by Diane Galusha, natural groundwater made the rock so soft that the shafts which allowed sandhogs to descend into the tunnel became watery death traps. Engineers were forced to build on each bank a giant inverted box called a caisson-a risky device that was pioneered during the laying of the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge. About fifteen feet on each side and weighing as much as two thousand tons, the steel-and-concrete boxes were sealed on all sides except the bottom. As they were lowered into the soft ground, compressed air was pumped into the caissons, pushing out the mud and water. To get into the caisson the sandhogs were lowered in a bucket down a steel shaft; from there they entered an air lock, much like a diving chamber. Air was pumped in, and the sandhogs could feel their eardrums strained to bursting, the blood rushing to the center of their bodies. Many assumed that they were dying.

Once the pressure in the air lock was equal to that inside the caisson, the sandhogs crawled through a trapdoor into the caisson, where, standing ankle-deep in mud, they began to dig from the bottom, removing the muck in a bucket through a hatch in the ceiling. As they dug, under pressure that was so great they could work for only two hours at a time, the caisson would slowly sink, allowing the sides of the box to carve the lining of a shaft. An engineer who had been in a caisson during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge described the sensation this way: "The pulse was at first accelerated, then sometimes fell below the normal rate. The voice sounded faint, unnatural, and it became a great effort to speak. What with the flaming lights, the deep shadows, the confusing noise of hammers, drills, and chains, the half-naked forms flitting about, with here and there a Sisyphus rolling his stone, one might, if of a poetic temperament, get a realizing sense of Dante's Inferno."

More unnerving, though, was the threat of a "blowout"-a breach in the lining of the caisson wall, caused by a sudden imbalance of pressure, which created suction much like that of an airplane door opened in mid-flight, accompanied by a terrifying kettle-like screech. Men had a few seconds to climb inside the air lock; if they didn't make it, they could be sucked into the earth, as happened in 1916, during the construction of a tunnel under the East River, when three men were swallowed through a crevice; two died, while a third, Marshall Mabey, was propelled safely into the afternoon sky on a geyser said to be four stories high. "I felt myself being pushed into the hole," Mabey later explained to a reporter. "As I struck the mud it felt as though something was squeezing me tighter than I had ever been squeezed. I was almost smothered."

It's not known how many sandhogs died building the Catskill system, but in 1913 the Pine Hill Sentinel reported, "Approximately ten out of every 100 workers are killed or injured every year. More than 3,800 accidents, serious and otherwise, to workers on the great aqueduct have been recorded. . . . The men doing the rough work are virtually all foreigners or negroes. Owing to the laborers being so inconspicuous, the death by accident of one or more of them attracts no public attention."

In 1917, more than a decade after the work began, the last explosion was sounded. It was now possible to walk underground from Manhattan all the way to the Catskills. The city marked the accomplishment, but the event was more subdued than the Croton celebration. The moment a new fountain by the reservoir in Central Park was turned on, the skies opened up and rain poured down.

"Hey, can you smell it?" Jimmy Ryan asked.

"What is it?" I asked.


We were back inside City Tunnel No. 3, watching the sandhogs scoop out the blasted rock-"mucking it out," as Ryan called it. It had been only minutes since I watched the men detonate the explosives, and the misty air was laden with smoke and dust; soon, a thin yellow film covered everything. Rocks that had endured earthquakes had been smashed against the surrounding walls. Some were cracked in two, revealing bits of mica, beautiful white glimmers amid the dust; others were black and dull.

At this early stage, the method of digging through the rock was similar to that used on the first water tunnel. As Ryan put it, "You stick the dynamite in, blow the motherfucker up, then haul the shit out." It was a repetitive, driving ritual, one in which there was no day or night and the sound of concussions replaced the passage of time. The men now loaded crushed granite into enormous buckets that carried as much as twenty-eight tons in a single load and were hoisted out by a crane through the same shaft that the men had come down. Each sandhog had his own role in the operation. There were muckers and blasters and signalmen and nippers; these last remained above the hole, connecting materials to the hoist. One veteran nipper, Brian Thorne, told me, "Everyone has a skill. My best skill is rigging. The guys downstairs want to know they can trust the guy that's upstairs to put stuff over their head and not worry. If you hit someone, you can't say, 'Oops, I'm sorry.' That person is dead. So you always have to be on top of your game."

Over the years, Ryan had risen from mucker to foreman, or "walking boss," and now, as president of the sandhogs' union, he is largely responsible for the whole gang. One colleague paid him the highest compliment you can give a sandhog: "No job is too dirty for Jimmy." But as Ryan waded through the mud, his eyes peering out from under his hard hat, he seemed slightly removed. When younger sandhogs started to recall some near-death tale, he would arch an eyebrow and say, "You got some line," or "You're a real bullshit artist, aren't you?" Unlike the other men, who tell stories about the tunnel the same way fishermen spin tales about the sea, Ryan rarely speaks of his time underground. When his shift is over, he heads home to Queens, where he often changes from his digger uniform into bright golf pants and plays the links, trying to propel the ball with his sore arms as he breathes in the smell of freshly cut grass. His wife told me, "He never says a word about the tunnel. I don't know what he does down there."

Ryan is not, by the standards of the trade, a particularly superstitious man-he doesn't carry a lucky crescent wrench or refuse to go down on Friday the thirteenth-but he maintains a constant watchfulness. And now, while the others told jokes, Ryan stood off by himself, quietly inspecting the walls to make sure there were no cracks that might cause chunks to shear off.

After a while, he trudged to the end of the tunnel, where there was a pile of smoldering rubble. At lesser depths, sandhogs had been known to uncover jewelry, murder weapons, false teeth, a chest of coins, a Colonial dungeon. "In the sewer tunnels, you sometimes find rats," Ryan said. "But this far down there are only sandhogs."

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag, which he carefully unwrapped, revealing not his lunch but a pack of Marlboros. He was the only one who, in spite of the stinging dust, seemed always to work with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth-like the detectives in the old dime novels he likes to read.

Some of the men propped a ten-foot ladder against the rubble and Ryan started to climb it, the embers of his cigarette leading the way. "Come on," he said. When I reached the top, he pointed down the tunnel, as if to say, Go on, take a look. And I saw a dozen figures moving through the dusty haze. There was a cacophony: men slamming picks into the jagged rocks, drills probing new holes, buckets moving back and forth amid sparks that flickered like fireflies. After five months of blasting and mucking, of two shifts working sixteen hours a day, of engineers and contractors measuring the quickest route, they had advanced only two city blocks, from Twenty-ninth Street to Thirty-first Street. But as I peered from one end to the other at the ceiling of rock, dripping with water and bathed in sulfurous light, I could sense the first hint of a design.

"So, what do you think of our cathedral?" Ryan asked.

Later, as he was taking off his boots in the hog house, Ryan told me, "You know, my grandfather did the same thing." He clapped his boots together. "He came to this country in 1922, from England. He started working first on the Holland Tunnel, but then they started the second water tunnel and he moved over to that. It was even bigger than Tunnel No. 1. It was pretty brutal. That much I can tell you."

In 1929, to keep pace with water consumption, which had increased by thirty-five million gallons per day since the first tunnel was built, the city began to construct Tunnel No. 2. Once again, another aqueduct was built, this one drawing water from the Delaware River. (It is still listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the world's longest water-supply tunnel.) Once again, villages were flooded and cemeteries were dug up.

Nick Ryan, Jimmy's grandfather, was tall, with a broad chest and red hair. Jimmy Ryan is said to resemble him, but Nick was more of "a wild man," as his grandson puts it, with a distinct hint of understatement. He was known for his penchant for whiskey, which in those days was often consumed in the tunnel. He had little, if any, formal education. Most of the sandhogs of his generation were recently arrived immigrants, typically from Ireland, Italy, and the West Indies, who would show up for work in their only set of clothes and wrap plastic bags around their shoes. The Board of Water Supply would sometimes put them in camps, and try to teach their children to read and write; the townspeople occasionally complained of "immigrant hordes." Black-and-white photographs taken at the time show Nick's gang standing in the tunnel, only a few beams of timber supporting the crumbling rock over their heads. Instead of a hard hat, Nick Ryan wore something more like a cowboy hat. In a 1936 log from one of the earliest meetings of Local 147, to which Nick belonged, there is a warning to the men not to pack pistols.

"Even during the Depression, most men wouldn't take these jobs," one miner who was in the union with Nick Ryan recalled in an oral history. "Nobody was going to go down and work with a shovel all day and then work in compressed air. We had some hard, hard people, and you had to be a rough commander. . . . They told you, Do it or get the hell out. So the only ones, as the insurance adjusters will tell you, that survived were the most fit."

Nick Ryan endured chest pains, broken limbs, bleeding sinuses, and caisson disease-the bends. Then, in 1937, with his family still in need of money, Nick Ryan took his eighteen-year-old son, Joe, down the shaft with him. "That's how my father learned how to survive underground," Jimmy Ryan recalled.

"Years ago, it started as a father-son business," a sandhog whose father worked side by side with Joe Ryan told me. "The fathers brought the sons in, then the brothers brought the brothers in, and the sons brought the cousins in. I don't know how you word this, but no one ever asked you your pedigree if you came here. They didn't care if you had a criminal record-as long as you worked you could stay in the hole."

Shorter and more compact than his father, Joe Ryan was known as Red. A ferociously driven and, to those who didn't know him well, intimidating man, he carried the burden-and perhaps the anger-of someone who had given up a football scholarship at Wake Forest University to work underground, helping to support a father who was sometimes out too late to make it to work on time. After Nick Ryan died, in 1958, his son briefly ran a gas station. But before long he returned underground-to the place that he knew best.

By the fifties, the city was already in frantic pursuit of more "pure and wholesome water." This time, it was not simply demand from an exploding population, or even droughts, that provoked alarm. This time, it was something that few, if any, had ever contemplated.

In 1954, unbeknownst to most residents of the city, several engineers went into a shaft to try to turn off the water supply in City Tunnel No. 1, to see if the tunnel needed repairs after being in operation for almost half a century. "Imagine your faucet after only ten years," Christopher Ward, the D.E.P. commissioner, said. "These things had been pounded away at for decades."

At the bottom of the shaft, sticking out of the tunnel, was a long bronze stem with a rotating wheel at the end. It was supposed to control the six-foot-diameter valve inside the pipeline. But when the engineers started to turn the handle, using all their might, it began to tremble and crack. "There was too much pressure on it," Ward said.

"They were afraid if they turned it any more the whole fucking thing would break," Richard Fitzsimmons, Jr., the business manager of the sandhogs' union, said.

After decades of building the world's greatest water system, the city had stumbled across its weak point, a single flaw that had rendered an otherwise invincible body mortal. "It scared the bejeezus out of people," Doug Greeley, an engineer in charge of the city's water distribution, said. There was no effective way to shut off the water, no way to get inside and weld a crack, no way to know if a tunnel was about to burst.

By the late sixties, officials had decided that something had to be done. "One of the original tunnels was seventy years old, and we were unable to repair any valves," Ed Koch, who was a congressman at the time, recalled. In some cases, he said, "we didn't even know where the valves were." Koch, who later served three terms as mayor, added, "You can exist without food, but you can't exist without water."

On a cold January day in 1970, the ground was officially broken for the third water tunnel, which would dwarf both of its predecessors. Designed to be constructed in four stages, it would extend sixty miles, from the reservoir in Yonkers through the Bronx and down to the southern tip of Manhattan, and then into Brooklyn and Queens. The project would include another underground aqueduct. More important, at the center of the entire system would be thirty-four specially designed valves that would be made not of bronze but of stainless steel, with shorter stems that could withstand greater force. (Most were manufactured in Japan, where city inspectors lived for two years to insure that they were made according to precise measurements.) All of the valves would be contained in a single centralized chamber, where they could be easily reached and turned off.

Construction on the chamber began in 1970 and was not finished until 1998. Though the tunnel sections that will feed into the chamber have not yet been completed, this past spring the D.E.P. gave me a glimpse inside the vault-which is in the Bronx, not far from the sandhogs' union hall. There is nothing above ground to indicate the vault's existence except a small guard tower and a sealed door that leads into a grassy hillside. "Ordinarily, we're not supposed to let anyone in," Greeley told me, standing outside the door.

Like many of "the pencils," as the sandhogs call the engineers, Greeley is a fastidious man: he has a neatly trimmed mustache and was wearing a blue blazer and a tie. The main door, which he unlocked as if it were a safe, was constructed out of solid steel. "They built this place during the Cold War," he said. "It's supposed to withstand a ten-megaton nuclear bomb."

As he pressed his weight against the door, it gradually gave way, emitting a loud sigh. It was damp and cool inside; the corridor was made of concrete. After descending a flight of metal steps, we rode an elevator twenty-five stories down. As Greeley opened another thick door, he said, "Prepare to have your perception of the water supply permanently altered."

The vault resembled an airplane hangar; it extended more than two hundred yards, with a domed ceiling that was forty-one feet high and walls that were cloaked in condensation and algae. Lights hung from the top like crescent moons. Suspended twenty feet off the ground, one after the other, were the valves, or, rather, the pipes that contained them: seventeen thirty-five-ton steel cylinders with studded bolts that reached horizontally from one side of the forty-two-foot-wide vault to the other. Each cylinder contained two valves. A metal gangplank ran alongside them, and Greeley walked excitedly to the first cylinder, running his hand along the torpedo-like shell. "This way, if a tunnel develops a crack, we can shut it off from here," he said. "Everything's right at your fingertips."

If a valve broke, the cylinder could be lowered down to the bottom of the vault, and carried out on tracks. One piece, Greeley explained, could be removed without disrupting the rest of the system. The old tunnels had run in a straight line from the reservoirs into the city, but City Tunnel No. 3 was designed with various redundant loops (upper Manhattan has a loop; Brooklyn and Queens have a loop) that would pass through the chamber, so that parts of the city can be taken off-line without cutting the water supply entirely.

Putting his hand on a small wheel that jutted out of the cylinder, Greeley said, "Here we can turn the valves on and off electronically or, if there's a power outage, even manually. Of course, if you did it manually, you'd have to turn it twenty-nine thousand times, but if you had to you could get a couple of guys down here and crank it away."

It was cold in the chamber, and Greeley shuddered as he held out his hand to demonstrate another innovation. "They're called butterfly valves," he said of the sluices inside the cylinder. Unlike the old guillotine-like sluices, these gates rotated slowly into position. "That takes off the pressure and makes it easier to close," he said, turning his hand clockwise. Though he had been in the vault dozens of times, he paused for a moment and looked out at the dozens of valves. Then he said, "Once the third water tunnel is finished, all the water in the city will flow like Zen."

In 1969, just before construction on the first stage of the third water tunnel began, Jimmy Ryan's father took him below the streets. "When I was eighteen, he said, 'Come with me,' " Jimmy Ryan recalled. "He was old school. You never asked what your father did. . . . Then they put us in this big bucket. I had no idea what to expect. It got darker and darker. My father told me to stay close and watch what he did. And that's how I became a sandhog. I was born into it."

Jimmy Ryan became known as the Red-Headed Hippie. "That was the style back then," Jimmy told me, somewhat defensively. "Even the old-timers had sideburns." If he was slightly rebellious, he had his father's unrelenting drive: he told me that he wanted to prove to his "old man" that he could do the job. Jimmy also had a forthrightness that made him popular among the men. "I can't say a bad word about Jimmy," Buddy Krausa, one of his old foremen, said, adding that Ryan was the type "who would never steal a crescent wrench."

After short stints on other jobs, the Ryans moved to the third water tunnel. On a summer day in 1982, Jimmy Ryan, Krausa, and a dozen or so other sandhogs went down a hole near Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx, where they were connecting a tunnel that would feed into the new valve chamber. The section had already been bored and they were in the final stages: building a steel form-it resembled the skeletal hull of a ship-around the contours of the carved-out earth, then pouring in concrete. To reach the cavern's ceiling, Ryan had climbed atop eighteen feet of scaffolding.

Around noon, some of the men stopped for lunch, but Ryan and a few others were still working when another sandhog, George Gluszak, who was a mile up the line, saw two twenty-ton agitator cars, which were used to mix concrete, racing down the tunnel. They had broken free from the brake car and were picking up speed along the steady decline. Some of the men tried to throw things on the tracks to slow them down, but it had no effect.

Jimmy Ryan was drilling when the cars slammed into the scaffolding, catapulting him twenty-five feet through the air. "Everything turned upside down," Ryan said. "I was knocked unconscious, and when I came to, all the lights had gone out. All I could hear were moans."

Krausa, who had not been injured, felt his way through the tangle of steel, rock, and machines. He could hear the other men calling out for help. Eventually, he found a flashlight and pointed the beam in front of him. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen," he said.

Sandwiched between two flatbed cars was Johnny Wademan, who had been drilling alongside Ryan. The two cars had collided under his shoulders and he was suspended in midair, his legs dangling, his arms outstretched. "He looked like Jesus Christ," said Gluszak, who, along with his team, had run through the darkened tunnel to the scene. One of the men shouted that Wademan was dead.

Ryan was bleeding profusely from his head. "Jimmy was hurt pretty bad," Krausa said. "God bless him, he was still looking for people, trying to help them. I don't know how he could walk."

In the corner, trapped between a concrete pipe and the wall, was a sandhog named Mike Butler. Most of his leg had been cut off, the crushed bone exposed; his foot, where the skin and tissue had been butterflied open, was pinned, so that he couldn't move. "He was bleeding to death," said Ryan.

Someone pulled out a penknife and, guided only by the unsteady beam of a flashlight, tried to pry him loose. His heel wouldn't budge. "I told him we were going to have to cut part of his foot off," Gluszak said. "He said, 'Do whatever you have to do.' "

While one sandhog held a cigarette to Butler's lips, another began to slice off his heel, severing what remained of the tendons and bone. "I took off my shirt, and wrapped his foot up in my undershirt and put a tourniquet around his leg," Gluszak said.

While Butler was being freed, the other men pulled Wademan down from where he had been suspended. As he hit the ground, they heard a groan. He was still alive.

It had been one of the worst accidents to date in the third water tunnel. Butler later had the rest of his leg amputated. Wademan's legs and hips were broken, six of his ribs were shattered, and he suffered severe head trauma. Ryan got a hundred and twenty stitches in his forehead and chin; he also had a broken knee, six fractured ribs, and two separated shoulders. It took him eight months to recuperate. When I asked him why he returned to work, he replied, "I'm a sandhog. That's all I know." He never went back to the scene of the accident, and he grew even quieter. "The accident took the life out of Jimmy," another sandhog said. "The exuberance."

"They ain't gonna do any psychological work on me," Ryan told me. "They ain't ever gonna penetrate this head."

Shortly after Ryan resumed working, he noticed that his father was having trouble breathing. "He'd walk thirty feet and have to stop," Ryan said. Then Joe Ryan started to cough up black phlegm. When Joe visited the doctor, X-rays showed spots on his lungs. He had contracted silicosis, a disease caused by years of breathing dust.

Jimmy Ryan said his father had always told him that sandhogs die unexpectedly. They die of cave-ins and blowouts. They die of explosions and electrocutions. They die of falling rocks and winches and icicles. They die of drowning. They die of decapitation and the bends. They die without legs, without arms. They die by plunging hundreds of feet or simply a few. They die quickly and, more often than not, painfully.

In May, on Ascension Thursday, Ryan put on a neatly pressed tweed jacket and a tie and drove from his home, in Queens, to St. Barnabas Church in the Bronx for a service in honor of all those who had died in the third water tunnel. The stone church had stained-glass windows that could be opened, allowing in the unfiltered sunlight. Ryan sat toward the front, his jacket tight around his broad shoulders. Packed in the pews around him were Christopher Ward, the D.E.P. commissioner; Anthony DelVescovo, the contractor; and dozens of sandhogs and engineers. "Let us pray for all those who have been hurt or killed in construction of City Tunnel No. 3," the priest intoned.

"Lift them up," a sandhog responded. "Lift them up."

Ryan knelt against the front of his pew as the priest read the names of the twenty-four men who had died in the tunnel. "Lord have mercy on them," the priest said. When the service was over, Ryan and the others headed down the street to an Irish pub. "My father was one of the lucky ones," he said. "He held on until 1999. That's when the silicosis finally got him."

"I'm John Ryan. I think you met my father."

The young man was standing by a shaft for a tunnel on the corner of Thirty-sixth Street and First Avenue. Short, with compact arms, he looked more like his grandfather than his father. He was twenty-eight, and his face had yet to develop the hard etchings of a sandhog. It was broad and frank, with bright-green eyes; red hair poked out of the front of his hard hat.

The other sandhogs called him "Jimmy's kid," but he had little of his dad's reticence. "You never know what's going on up there," he said of his father, with a smile. "I'm more of a bullshit artist." He looked up at the crane that was lowering materials down the hole. "I used to think my father was out of his mind. I was about eight years old when he got hurt. I still remember it. He didn't want to stay in the hospital and came home in a wheelchair. That's when I first realized what it meant to be a sandhog, and I said, 'Christ, I ain't ever gonna do that.' " He peered down the hole. "It's in your blood, I guess." Holding out his arms, he added, "We've probably got more muck in our veins than anything else."

"Nobody wants their kid to go into it," Jimmy Ryan told me later. "You'll always hope they'll find some kind of pencil job."

"I grew up wanting to be a baseball player," John Ryan said. "Then I dropped out of college, and one day my father came in the bar where I was working and said, 'All right, mister, you want to bartend? Come with me.' I'd never been in the hole before. I was scared. I won't lie to you."

"I can only imagine what he was thinking," Jimmy Ryan said. "We try to help each other."

John Ryan's great-grandfather brought home only a few dollars a week from his work on the water tunnel; today, sandhogs earn as much as a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year. Though many are descended from tramp miners, they now often emerge from the hog house in tailored suits, their hair perfectly combed, as if they were bankers or accountants. Chick Donohue, the head of the hog house, has a degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard and is well known in city politics. He wears his Harvard ring on one hand and his sandhogs' union ring on the other. "That way, if I can't outsmart 'em with the left, I hit 'em with the right," he told me.

Just as sandhogs have gradually transformed the city, the city has gradually transformed the sandhogs. Some now arrive at the hole in a Cadillac or a BMW. John Ryan, who is engaged to be married, is buying a Colonial house in Nassau County. "A lot of guys are drawn to the money," he admitted. He paused. "And there's the camaraderie. That's a big part of it, too." He paused again, as if still searching for the deepest reason, then added, "Hell, I like it down there."

After five years on the third water tunnel, John Ryan had risen to foreman. His current mission was to build the city's newest "mole," a two-hundred-and-thirty-ton drill that would be placed at his father's site, on Tenth Avenue. Experimented with as early as the seventies, the mole was officially introduced in the water tunnels in 1992, and had become the sandhogs' most critical instrument-comparable, in the world of tunnelling, to the invention of the printing press. In February, the latest mole was transported from New Jersey to Manhattan, in pieces weighing sixty to a hundred and thirty tons, on a flatbed truck; the payload was the largest ever to cross the George Washington Bridge. The components were then lowered into the Thirtieth Street hole by a special crane that could withstand the enormous weight.

One day in February, after the mole had been assembled in the tight confines of the tunnel, John Ryan invited me to go down with him and see it. The pipeline was twelve and a half feet in diameter. The mole had already been driven nearly half a mile, and to reach the heading we had to ride a railroad car called a "man trip," which rattled from side to side. Groundwater seeped out of the surrounding rock, splattering against the walls as we sped past. After about five minutes, we came to a sudden stop. In the distance, I could see a monstrous machine that looked more like a space shuttle than a drill. The mole's hydraulic engines churned, and its blinking lights gleamed. "Come on," Ryan said excitedly, walking toward it. "That's only the trailing gear."

This gear-including a conveyor belt that carried out the crushed rock-took up most of the tunnel. A narrow gangplank had been built on the tunnel's side. Occasionally, to pass one of the fifteen or so sandhogs, we had to turn sideways, pressing our faces against the damp rock. As we went deeper, the mole began to resemble a colossal organism: its giant cylindrical arms gripped the walls and pushed the machine's mouth forward through the rock. In some compartments of the mole, engineers were peering at computer screens; the mole had lasers that registered the precise type of rock at the heading.

A siren sounded, and the men began to run up and down the plank. "What's happening?" I asked nervously.

"Nothing," Ryan said. "We're just starting it up."

The mole coughed and sputtered and shook. The temperature had been twenty degrees at the surface, but the mole heated the tunnel air to eighty degrees, and some of the men began to strip off their layers. After walking seventy-five yards, we reached the front of the mole: a round shield with twenty-seven cutters, each weighing three hundred and twenty pounds, pressed against the rock face, obscuring it completely. The cutters, driven forward by hydraulic propulsion, spun ferociously and noisily, chipping away at the granite, which was then carried out on the conveyor belt and loaded into muck cars. Ryan, who had grown up listening to tales of his forebears, said it was hard to believe that "my great-grandfather had only a goddam muck stick"-sandhog slang for shovel.

Indeed, until the mole was invented, tunnelling had changed only incrementally since the days of the Romans, who used fire and water to crack the rock and horses to carry it out. When a prototype of the mole was introduced in New York, in the seventies, many of the sandhogs feared it as much as caving rock.

"It's like that old story about John Henry," Chick Donohue explained, recalling the fabled contest between man and machine after the invention of the steam drill. "Well, when they introduced the first mole over in Brooklyn, the cutters kept breaking, and the sandhogs would jump in with their shovels and picks. They knew they were competing for their jobs, and they were actually beating the mole! Of course, they then perfected the mole, and there was no contest."

The construction of the first water tunnel required no fewer than eighty men to drill and blast for at least a week in order to advance a hundred feet. The mole, with a fraction of the manpower, can tunnel that far in a day.

Yet, even with the mole, the third water tunnel has already taken six times as long as either City Tunnel No. 1 or No. 2; some people think it won't be completed, as scheduled, by 2020. "We should've been done with this thing twenty years ago," Jimmy Ryan said. "But the city keeps fucking around."

Conditions above ground have proved almost as difficult as those below. After the initial phase of a billion-dollar contract to build the tunnel was awarded to a consortium of companies, costs began to exceed estimates by the millions. When the city balked at the rising costs, the companies sued and the work stalled. Then, in 1974, when the city went bankrupt, construction was halted altogether. In all, nearly a decade was lost, and in 1981, with work proceeding only piecemeal and the ever-growing demand for water forcing the old tunnels to carry sixty per cent more capacity than intended, city officials were so desperate that they pleaded with the federal government to fund the project.

Meanwhile, charges began to surface that Tammany Hall-like machinations were contributing to the delays. The once vaunted Board of Water Supply, which oversaw the construction, had become a "Democratic patronage plum tree," as one critic put it. Stanley M. Friedman, the Bronx Democratic power broker who was later convicted of racketeering, was given a lifetime position on the board, with a salary of twenty thousand dollars, as well as an office, a secretary, a chauffeured car. "When I came in as mayor, it was a lifetime job given to retiring politicians," Koch told me. "They didn't do anything."

The board was dismantled. But in 1986 the man in charge of supervising purchasing for the water tunnel at the D.E.P., Edward Nicastro, warned that contracts were still not being properly monitored. "You'd be amazed at how easy it is to steal in the system," he told a reporter at the time.

In recent years, the greatest delays seem to be caused not by efforts to defraud the public but by attempts to placate it. Where the old water board once plowed over communities, the D.E.P. is now impeded by them. In 1993, when it tried to sink a shaft on East Sixty-eighth Street, Councilman Charles Millard protested that his office had received calls from parents whose children were "finding it difficult to concentrate." numby, or "not under my back yard," movements sprang up. In 1994, after engineers had spent two years planning a new shaft site, residents in Jackson Heights held a protest, carrying signs that said, "don't give us the shaft." Engineers were forced to find a new location. "When we want to choose a shaft site, everyone says, 'Oh, the water system is a miracle, but please find another place,' " Ward told me. " 'We're building a co-op'-or hotel or park-'there.' " A D.E.P. engineer and geologist, Scott Chesman, added, "Instead of taking seven years to finish, we're on thirty years, and hardly any of it's been done. It's like the eighteen-hundreds again."

Indeed, for the first time, the historic Delaware Aqueduct-the eighty-four-mile underground pipeline that carries the water from reservoirs upstate down to Yonkers, where it connects to City Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2-has begun to crack. According to some D.E.P. reports, in 1995 the aqueduct was losing about five hundred million gallons a month from leaks, which were creating massive sinkholes in Ulster and Orange Counties; in 2000, the monthly loss sometimes exceeded a billion gallons. An investigation by Riverkeeper warned of a potential "collapse" of the aqueduct, which would cut off as much as eighty per cent of the water flowing into the city.

In the spring of 2000, the D.E.P. decided to send a team of deepsea divers down to do repairs on one of the original bronze valves in the Delaware Aqueduct, in the Dutchess County town of Chelsea, which had cracked, spewing a torrent of water through a hole the size of a quarter at eighty miles per hour. "For about two or three months, we built a mockup of the valve and a mockup of the bottom of the shaft," said John McCarthy, the engineer who oversaw the project. "We took the crew and experimented in a tank of about fifty feet of water, without any light, trying to simulate the conditions."

After practicing for days, the engineers transported a diving bell and a decompression chamber to the leak site. Four divers, who were hired from the same company that had helped to salvage the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk after it sank in the Barents Sea in August, 2000, had to remain inside the decompression chamber for twenty-four hours, in order to adjust to the intense water pressure underground. The chamber was about the size of a van, only round. On the outside were valves and hoses and an air-lock door to send in food (mostly fluids and peanut butter) and to remove human waste. The pressure in the chamber was gradually brought to the same pressure as that of the water seven hundred feet underground.

After breathing a mixture of ninety-eight per cent helium and two per cent oxygen for twenty-four hours, two of the divers crawled into a thirteen-foot diving bell that was attached to the top of the chamber. Once they had sealed themselves inside, the bell was lifted by a crane and lowered down the shaft that led into the aqueduct. There were only inches between the bell and the walls of the shaft. When the divers reached the bottom, one climbed out and swam toward the leak. (The other diver remained in the bell in case of an emergency.) He wore a wetsuit, a mask, and scuba equipment, and carried a small waterproof tool set. While struggling to stay in position against the pressure of the escaping water, he placed a brass plug in one of the holes, then sealed it with a clamp and an epoxy compound.

Each shift lasted at least four hours, then the bell was lifted up and two other divers went down. "It was not for the faint of heart," McCarthy said. The men spent ten days finishing the repairs, and fifteen more in the decompression chamber.

Still, far greater leaks are suspected somewhere between the Rondout Reservoir, in the Catskills, and a reservoir in Putnam County. This June, the D.E.P. sent a custom-made two-million-dollar submarine through forty-five miles of the Delaware Aqueduct. (The job was deemed too dangerous for a human.) The eight-hundred-pound craft, which was nicknamed Persephone, took three hundred and fifty thousand photographs. "The sub looks like a torpedo with catfish antennas," Commissioner Ward told me. "While a motor pushes it through, the antennas help it bounce back off the walls to stay within the middle of the tunnel." The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on Cape Cod, and the D.E.P. are now examining the pictures to evaluate the structural integrity of the pipeline.

But even if the locations of the leaks are determined, and if engineers can then concoct some way to plug them, most D.E.P. officials I spoke with do not consider this section of the aqueduct the most vulnerable. They are more worried about pipelines closer to the city-in particular, Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2, which, because of their greater depth and buried valves, are far less accessible, even to a self-piloted submarine. Some sandhogs believe that the only thing preventing these sections from collapsing is the pressure of the water pushing against their walls. A former chief engineer on the water system, Martin Hauptman, has noted, "We see headlines in the streets frequently where a 24-inch water main breaks and the street's flooded, basements are flooded, the subway is flooded, and people think that is a horrible situation. Failure of a tunnel is an entirely different situation. What bothers me most . . . is the element of time. You cannot buy time with a situation like that."

And there is now the additional threat of terrorism. Although the public's attention has focussed on the danger of someone's poisoning the water supply, officials believe that the system would likely dilute a toxin's effects. The greater danger, they say, is that a terrorist might blow up one of the pipelines before the third water tunnel is up and running. "That's the scary thing," Ward said. Fitzsimmons, the sandhogs' union leader, added, "If you attacked the right spots-I hate to say this, but it's true-you could take out all of the water going into New York City."

On the morning I went down the hole with John Ryan, he told me, "My hope is that we can finish the third water tunnel, so my father will be able to see it completed."

The mole was boring into the rock. Several sandhogs had laid new tracks on the floor, pounding them into the rock with sledgehammers.

"All right!" Ryan yelled. "Let's check the cutter heads."

He looked up at me from under his hard hat. "You want to go?" he asked.


He pointed underneath the mole, where a small passageway led into the bowels of the machine. Two other sandhogs were already crawling in and, after a moment, I followed. First we had to crouch in a cavity no more than three feet by four feet. One of the sandhogs, who introduced himself as Peter, fumbled with the lamp on his hard hat. "Fucking thing's busted," he said.

The other worker turned his light on, and I could see that the passage led to a five-foot-long corridor that connected to the head of the mole.

"Whenever you're ready, John," Peter yelled to Ryan, who was outside the cavity, directing the operation. "You can roll the head."

We stayed in a crouch for several more minutes, watching the mole's cutters rotate several degrees one way, then the other, until at last they came to rest.

"This is the most dangerous part," Peter said. He then lay on his stomach and stuck his hands straight out in front of him and began to squirm, feet first, through the narrow passage leading to the mole's cutters. He slid through the mud and water, and I followed on my stomach. Soon, I was standing in mud and water up to my knees, staring at the giant metal blades. I tried to step away, but my back hit something hard: the head of the tunnel. We were sandwiched between the mole and the rock. "You just don't want anything to move," Peter said.

As groundwater seeped from the ceiling, hitting the machine, puffs of steam filled the cavity.

"Go ahead, touch it," Peter said, pointing to one of the blades.

I reached out and touched the edge: it was scalding hot, from friction. "You could fry an egg on it," Peter said.

The other sandhog squeezed into the crevice. Now the only wiggle room was above our heads. As the water crept up to our thighs, Peter craned his neck, inspecting the front of the tunnel to make sure the rock was sound. There was a series of grooved concentric circles where the blades had cut. "It looks like a dartboard, doesn't it?" Peter said.

"Like a tree," the other sandhog said.

They checked the blades to make sure they didn't require replacement.

I told them I thought I needed to leave.

"Just a second more," Peter said.

The other sandhog exited first, followed by me, then Peter. When I saw John Ryan again, he looked at my muck-covered clothes, then clapped me cheerfully on the back. "Welcome to our fucking world," he said.

There was no man-trip car to take me back to the shaft, so I set out by myself, walking the length of the tunnel. "If you see a muck car coming," Ryan told me, "just hang on to the pipes on the side of the tunnel."

A few minutes later, the noise from the mole faded, and the tunnel was empty and still. Though it extended as far as the eye could see, this tunnel was not even one-sixtieth the projected length of the third water tunnel; it was a mere one-thousandth of all the miles of water tunnels and pipelines and aqueducts combined. For the first time during my underground excursion, I had some sense of this city under the city-of what many engineers refer to as "the eighth wonder of the world."

After a while, a light flickered in the distance and I thought it was a muck car. As Ryan had instructed, I hung on to the pipes on the side of the tunnel. But it was only a sandhog come to escort me out.

When I reached the top, I went into the hog house to change. On the bench beside me was a slender boy with a hard hat cocked to one side, as if it were a fedora. He looked astonishingly like Jimmy Ryan. It was Jimmy's younger son, Gregory. "I started in 2000, over on the third water tunnel in Queens," he said. "They call us the millennial hogs."

Only twenty, he looked like a slightly ungainly teen-ager in his dirty white shirt and a slicker that seemed too loose for his narrow waist. He hung his Yankees cap in his locker and wrapped his supper, a veal cutlet sandwich, in a plastic bag. "It saves time to eat underground," he said.

Greg glanced at another sandhog who was dressing nearby. His left hand had been crushed under a beam in the hole, and his index finger was missing. "I still get scared sometimes," Greg said, lifting his hard hat and removing a pack of menthol cigarettes. He lit one and let it dangle between his teeth, the way he had often seen his father do. "My father told me not to think about it. It'll only make it worse."

Greg turned and headed outside, where his brother John was emerging from the cage, his face covered in mud. As John stepped onto solid ground, shielding his eyes from the blinding light, he clapped his hand on Greg's shoulder. "I'll see you, O.K.?" Greg nodded and, without a word, descended into the darkness.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Oil in Utah

Copyright 2005 PennWell Publishing Company  
Oil & Gas Journal
January 17, 2005

LENGTH: 5147 words

HEADLINE: Stunning Utah oil, gas discovery focuses spotlight on Hingeline

BYLINE: Floyd C. Moulton; Consulting Geologist, Salt Lake City, Michael L. Pinnell; Pioneer Oil & Gas/International Petroleum, South Jordan, Utah

Central Utah, once the orphan child of hydrocarbon exploration, may soon have many fathers.

A recent new field discovery and first offset operated by Wolverine Gas & Oil Co., private Grand Rapids, Mich., independent, on the Central Utah Over-thrust appears to have exceeded 200,000 bbl of oil since May 2004 from the Jurassic Novajo sandstone and Twin Creek limestone at 6,000-7,000 ft.

The two wells are now capable of yielding as much as 4,400 b/d of oil from a very large hanging wall, thrusted anticlinal structure defined by 2D seismic. The structure eventually could produce well over 500 million bbl of oil. Deeper potential pay horizons are certainly present but have not yet been drilled.

Wolverine was directionally drilling the first of seven development wells in late December to better define the oil field limits.

No name has been designated for this new field as far as we know, so we use "Kings Meadow Ranches" as a field name in this article.
Best since Pineview?

The Wolverine discovery is one of many fine prospects drilled as major discoveries after being shown at the North American Prospect Expo held annually in Houston. This, however, is a prospect that almost no one would buy.

One story is that Sidney J. Jansma Jr., president of Wolverine, raised the drilling funds from outside the oil industry. His bold vision has caused a 150-mile segment of the Central Utah thrust belt to become the focus of what will undoubtedly be a fierce and rewarding firestorm of leasing, drilling, and discovery not seen since Pineview oil and gas field was brought into production in 1975 (Fig. 1).

The Pineview discovery set off a 5-year exploration melee that resulted in the drilling of 175 wildcats and the discovery of 11 new fields, mostly in Wyoming. Two of these discovered fields are giant Anschutz Ranch East and giant Whitney Canyon-Carter Creek.

The former Amoco Production Co., with its control of the Union Pacific acreage right-of-way, essentially controlled the destiny of the Pineview era exploration effort in Wyoming. The central Utah play, on the other hand, is pretty much open to independents since most major oil companies no longer explore in the Rocky Mountains.

If recent competitive federal and state lease sales are an indication of intent, then Wolverine Gas & Oil, Pioneer Oil & Gas, International Petroleum LLC, Armstrong Petroleum, PetroHunt, and Craig Settle are but a few of the independents presently leading the charge. And the potential could easily exceed what was discovered in the sister play to the north.

Wolverine has completed a 116-mile seismic program to complement older Chevron data (the discovery was a far-mout from Chevron Corp.). These data will assist Wolverine in the development of a 65,000-acre federal unit and other, nearby prospects in the area that include at least four additional structures in Wolverine's federal unit similar to the discovery.

At least one seismic group shoot is being formulated to start by the summer of 2005. In addition, we anticipate seeing six or more wells drilled along the Central Utah thrust belt by mid-2005.

Competitive oil and gas lease bids have risen to as much as $ 700/acre in some high priority areas. Large lease blocks are being offered at as much as $ 300/acre, and most have drilling requirements.

Lease price hikes can be expected as word spreads about the quality of the production. Wolverine is trying hard to keep production statistics confidential for good reason. In the Pineview era, lease prices reached thousands of dollars per acre in high priority areas, and those were 1970 dollars.
Wolverine discovery

The Wolverine discovery well, 17-1 Kings Meadow Ranches, in SE NW 17-23s-lw, Sevier County, Utah, was spudded on Dec. 9, 2003, and completed May 3, 2004, as a tight hole after reaching an estimated TD of 10,750 ft.

It has produced an estimated 144,000 bbl of oil. It initially produced 800 b/d of oil from a perforated interval of only about 12 ft.

A rework program with additional perforations in early November 2004 was followed with the installation of a submersible pump. Scout reports indicate the well is producing over 2,000 b/d of oil from the Navajo.

All produced oil is being trucked to ChevronTexaco's 45,000 b/d refinery in Salt Lake City from a single, flow-line-fed storage facility at the 17-1 well pad. Fully developed, Wolverine's field might have upwards of 70 wells.
Field development

Wolverine spudded the second well on July 2, 2004. The KMR 17-2 well is in SE SW 17-23s-1w, Sevier County, 1/2 mile south of the KMR 17-1 well.

The second well was also drilled as a tight hole, but several interesting tidbits of scout data have caught our attention. On July 23, 2004, while drilling at 5,807 ft with 8.6 ppg mud in the Twin Creek, oil was observed on the mud pit. and then the well attempted to blow out. Mudloggers noted 4,000 units of gas.

A core revealed a tight but well fractured limestone with good oil saturation. Wolverine registered the Aug. 19 completion with the state as a gas well.

A submersible pump was installed in casing in November after Wolverine had perforated a small interval of the Navajo at 6,400(?) ft. On Nov. 25, this well was reported to be capable of producing as much as 2,400 b/d of oil. It was shut-in for mechanical work at this writing in early January.
Oil characteristics

Oil in the Wolverine wells is Paleozoic sourced and is derived from marl-stone, not shale. It is low in sulfur content (0.57%) and of good quality (40 deg. gravity).

Two marine biomarkers have been observed in the oil. They have been identified as Permian and Mississippian with a possible overmature condensate mix that may have originated from organic rich Lower Cretaceous sediments below the Gunnison thrust. Structures farther north of Wolverine's discovery will have an even better chance of a Cretaceous oil source in addition to the primary Paleozoic source already noted.
World class reservoir

The Navajo formation is comprised mostly of very clean, eolian, quartzose sandstone.

It is more than 1,200 ft thick in the discovery well. At least the top 500 ft are filled with oil. A secondary reservoir, Twin Creek, rests atop the Navajo. It is apparently similar to production in the thrust belt's Wyoming salient, where it has little primary porosity but is often fractured.
Seismic structure

Several years ago, Wolverine distributed at the prospect expo copies of its seismic structure map that defined the drill site and structural configuration of what would become Kings Meadow Ranches field.

This structure is ten miles long and four miles wide as mapped on the Navajo No. 2 sandstone marker. We have redrawn and somewhat modified this anticline on a topographic base to see how topography and deep structure interact (Fig. 2).

Wolverine has secured permits to drill as many as seven directional wells from the two presently producing pads as development wells to confirm the size of the structure at the first producing Navajo sandstone level we call Navajo No. 1. The first of these wells was drilling in late December. Some of these proposed offsets are fairly bold stepouts of over 1 mile.
Duplex structure

Two Navajo sandstones are superposed on the Gunnison hanging wall folded structure (Fig. 3).

Navajo No. 1 is the producing zone now being developed by Wolverine. Navajo No. 2 (2,000 ft deeper) had oil shows in the 17-1 well. The 17-2 well was not drilled deep enough to penetrate Navajo No. 2. Both Navajo sandstones may be productive on the higher part of the structure to the south (Fig. 2). Since the south leg of the anticline has 600 ft more structural closure than the discovery, Navajo No. 1 in the south leg may have 1,100 ft of pay and up to twice the recoverable oil per well as the discovery!
Reserves outlook

Only an educated guess can be made as to reserves due to the operator's confidentiality.

A common recovery factor for the Jurassic Nugget sandstone (equivalent to central Utah's Navajo) in Wyoming is 200 bbl/acre-ft.

If Wolverine drills at 160-acre spacing (like its permitted locations seem to indicate), and the scout information correctly identifies 400 net ft of pay, then we can give this a very hypothetical reserve estimate: 200 bbl/acre-ft times 400 net ft of pay times 160 acres equals 12.8 million bbl/well recoverable.

If the production rate really is 2,000 b/d/well, then with no decline each well will have a life of 17.5 years. Since a decline rate is imminent, these wells will be around for quite awhile.

After extrapolating 70 potential well sites on Wolverine's own seismic structure map, we estimate that Kings Meadow Ranches field will have 896 million bbl recoverable from the Navajo No. 1 alone. More production may come from more pay in Navajo No. 1 on the south leg, from Navajo No. 2 on the south leg, and from Twin Creek on the entire structure. Deeper production, if found, would be additional (remember that the oil is sourced from the deeper, older Paleozoic rocks.)

As an aside, estimated ultimate recovery at Anschutz Ranch East field is at least 15 million boe/well from a retrograde condensate reservoir in the Nugget.
Thrust belt geology

We somewhat arbitrarily divide the North American thrust belt into six regions or salients, three of which are productive (Fig. 1).

Production was first discovered in the northern or Canadian salient at an oil seep in Turner Valley, southwest of Calgary, in 1924.

The central portion we call the Wyoming salient, discovered at Pineview, Utah, and mostly in Wyoming, is bounded by the Uinta Mountains to the south and the Snake River Plain to the north.

The third productive salient is in central Utah, south of the Uinta Mountains, extending south 150 miles almost to Beaver, Utah (35 miles south of Richfield). This Central Utah thrust and fold belt was penetrated by 115 exploration wells prior to the discovery this year of Kings Meadow Ranches field.

The basic geology of the central Utah play has similarities and definite differences when compared to productive thrust trends of the Canadian and Wyoming salients. We have elected to compare the basic geology of these three salients on a spreadsheet (Fig. 4). Ultimately, the death knell to Central Utah until now was a perceived absence of source rocks.

1. The Hingeline. The Central Utah thrust belt (Utah salient) is located just east of the abrupt, western thickening of Paleozoic rocks (Fig. 5). This thickening is more abrupt than at the Canadian or Wyoming salients.

Thick, organic-rich Paleozoic rocks are critical as both source and potential reservoir rocks in the Utah salient: The Wolverine discovery produces oil typed as being Paleozoic (Mississippian to Permian age).

Since this oil has migrated from west to east to fill Kings Meadow Ranches field, all contemporaneous, intervening structural closures must have been filled with hydrocarbons prior to Wolverine's anticline.

Do these undrilled structures contain oil to the west where the best Central Utah thrust belt oil and gas shows were noted prior to Wolverine's success? We have geochemical data that indicate "yes" and point to even more potentially productive structures in the Paxton and Pavant Thrust trends than in the easternmost Gunnison Thrust trend.

In addition to Jurassic reservoirs now productive in central Utah, Paleozoic carbonates may also be productive from porosity enhanced by karsting as well as fracturing, in some ways similar to Whitney Canyon-Carter Creek field Paleozoic production sourced by Cretaceous shalesn1 in Wyoming and Paleozoic sourced Mississippian and Devonian reservoirs in Canada.

2. Emery uplift. In central Utah, a large, east-west trending uplift began prior to Pennsylvanian and exposed rocks at least as old as Mississippian carbonates in an area now occupied in part by the central Utah thrusts (Fig. 5). This uplift is defined by isopach (thickness) mapping the Mississippian to Permian interval. Pennsylvanian carbonates were either eroded, or not deposited, as well.

This type of uplift resulted in porosity enhancement in exposed rocks. Karsting may provide even better oil production in Paleozoic rocks than the great rates in Wolverine's Jurassic-age reservoirs. Organic-rich Permian sediments onlapped and covered all the uplifted area from the west.

Permian oil is the source of several significant oil fields and tar deposits in central Utah. These include Upper Valley field in the Kaiparowitz basin and the Tar Sand Triangle. In that triangle 60 miles east of the Wolverine discovery in the Permian White Rim sandstone, up to 16 billion bbl of oil has migrated, then been exposed on the surface as a tar sand deposit.

3. Navajo sandstone. The world class, 1,100-ft thick, Early Jurassic age eolian Navajo sandstone was deposited in a Sahara-sized desert that ranged from Nevada to Nebraska and Arizona to Montana. This same sandstone is called the Nugget in the Wyoming salient, where it is the primary productive horizon.

But there are differences. In Wyoming it can also be over 1,000 ft thick, but there it is much tighter and often needs natural fracturing in anticlinal folds to enhance hydrocarbon deliverability; average porosity is commonly 9%. Near Wolverine's discovery, Chevron drilled and cored the Navajo sandstone where it displayed better reservoir qualities in thicker zones with better porosity, averaging 12%.

4. Emery uplift rejuvenated. In early Jurassic, the Emery high was elevated again forming the shallow, western part of the Jurassic deep evaporite basin wherein thick deposits of gypsum, salts, silts, and shales were deposited as the Arapien and Carmel formations. These evaporates will later play a significant role in post-thrusting tectonics not displayed in the Wyoming salient.

The renewed Emery uplift transformed into the more northerly trending, incipient Gunnison arch. Synchronous highs like the Emery uplift-Gunnison arch are known to contain vast amounts of oil. A few examples are giant Elk Hills, Yates, and Lost Soldier fields.n2,n3

We are not saying these California, Texas, and Wyoming fields are in thrust regimes but that prior to thrusting fields of these magnitudes may have already been present only to be modified by more recent tectonics. Pre-thrusting oil migration in this general trend has been suggested by Loucks,n4 Schelling and Wavrek,n5 and Stone.n6

5. Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift. A contemporaneous downwarping east of and parallel to the incipient Gunnison arch accentuated Jurassic evaporite deposition. No similar feature was present in Canada or Wyoming.

6. Ancient Ephraim fault. Also in early Jurassic a major down-to-the-west, north trending fault developed on the east side of the Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift and was accentuated by the Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift. This fault is 200 miles long and has throw of as much as 6,000 ft. Moulton recognized the importance of this fault and named it "The Ancient Ephraim fault" in 1976.n7

7. Overthrusting. East-vergent, relatively flat overthrusts initiated in western Utah in early Cretaceous and continued to central Utah by earliest Paleocene. Westward movement of the North American Plate caused a structural shortening of 50%, similar to Canadian and Wyoming salients.n8

In Utah four major, unique thrusting sheets are oldest on the west and include the Canyon Range thrust, the Pavant thrust, the Paxton thrust, and the youngest, and easternmost Gunnison thrust (containing Kings Meadow Ranches field).n9

In Canada, several similar thrusts contain economic hydrocarbons. However, in Wyoming only the eastern Absaroka thrust is economic. Other thrusted anticlines are dry west of the Absaroka thrust because oil must migrate to them from the east to the west sourced by mature Cretaceous shales below the thrust plane.

On the other hand, west to east migration of oil does not happen in Wyoming. Fortunately, it does happen in the Canadian and Utah salients. For this reason the Utah salient may be productive from several separate thrust fronts like Canada and unlike Wyoming.

In an effort to evaluate this possibility, we acquired a proprietary satellite geochemical evaluation of the entire central Utah trend and looked for geochem signatures similar to the Wolverine discovery. Each of the four major thrust trends exhibits Kings Meadow Ranches-like geochemical signatures at structural culminations identified from gravity with the Paxton and Pavant thrusted trends exhibiting more quality anomalies than the other trends.

We include the locations of several of the geochemical anomalies associated with the Kings Meadow Ranches anticline and related structures on our tectonic elements map (Fig. 5). Note the position of anomalies 20 through 23 at the western edge of thick evaporates in the Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift. We suspect these anomalies are from hydrocarbon microseepage deflected west, traveling under the allochthonous salt and shale mass.

8. Gunnison arch continues. As thrusting wound down at the end of the Cretaceous, uplift at the Gunnison arch intensified. This hundred mile long north-northeast trending tectonic event (Fig. 5) arched up the thrust planes and continued through at least the early part of the Paleocene.

9. Sanpete-Sevier rift continues. Continued sagging above the Sanpete-Sevier rift accentuated the rift between the Gunnison arch and Ancient Ephraim fault during Tertiary and even Quaternary time.

After thrusting, thick salts within the rift have moved up section (west) at a 45 deg. angle along an 80-mile trend that essentially follows the Gunnison thrust (see cross section, Fig. 3). This lateral salt movement is an allochthonous, evaporite mass that is sometimes defined as a subsurface salt glacier.

Gravity data clearly show an abrupt salt termination where it is eroded on the west. On the east, there appears to be a gradual, volumetric decrease.

10. Oil window. During the early to late Tertiary, the oil window was achieved in central Utah in both Paleozoic source rocks to the west and Cretaceous source rocks to the east because of the deposition of 8,000-12,000 ft of overlying Tertiary detritus.

These source rocks were forced deep enough to reach temperatures and pressures sufficient to generate oil and gas. This also happened in Canada, but in the Wyoming salient it appears that only Cretaceous shales yielded hydrocarbons only from under the Fossil Basin Tertiary deposits.

11. Basin and Range. Around 25 million years ago central and western Utah initiated extension. This "to the west" movement probably took place on the older thrust planes and may have actually increased east dip and, hence, the structural closure of the Kings Meadow Ranches-like anticlines. This "to the west" extension also caused the older thrusts planes to arch up under the Kings Meadow Ranches-type structures (Fig. 3).
Figure 4

Note: This table may be divided, and additional information on a particular entry may appear on more than one screen.

Sedimentary and tectonic events sequence, oldest towards top

Area -->
Central Utah thrust belt

down arrow Time
Discovered May 3, 2004

Text ref., down arrow
Kings Meadow Ranches field

pp. 44-47

The Hingeline with abrupt thickening west of

what is today the Central Utah thrust belt

Before the
The Emery Uplift in Central Utah exposed

Mississippian sediments along the now defined

Thrust Belt Trend. Organic-rich Permian

sediments onlapped eroded Pennsylvanian

and covered all the uplifted area from the west.

Late Triassic to
The world class, 1,100-ft thick, aeolian

Early Jurassic
Navajo sandstone was deposited in a Saharasized

desert. It is the primary oil producing

formation at Wolverine's "Kings Meadow Ranches"

wells. Average porosity 12%

Early Jurassic
The Emery high area was elevated again creating

the shallow, western part of the Jurassic

deep evaporite basin (incipient Gunnison arch)

Early Jurassic
The Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift downwarped

east of and parallel to the Gunnison arch,

trending north-northeast.

Early Jurassic
A major down-to-the-west, north trending fault,

The "Ancient Ephraim fault," formed on the

east side of the Sanpete-Sevier Valley rift. This

fault will have as much as 6,000 ft of eventual

displacement and is 200 miles long (Floyd

Moulton, 1976).

Early to Late
East-vergent, relatively flat overthrusting caused

by westward movement of the North American

Plate. Structural shortening 50% (Wallace, 1991)

Post-thrusting renewed (synchronous) uplifting of

the 100-mile-long Gunnison arch trend.

This tectonic event arched up the thrust

planes atop ttie Gunnison arch

Early Tertiary
Continued collapse of the Sanpete-Sevier rift

on the east side ol the Gunnison arch.

Early to Late
8,000-12,000 ft of Tertiary detritus forced

organic-rich Paleozoic and Mesozoic

sediments down into oil generating, high

temperature, high pressure depths (oil window).

Late Oligocene
Western North America started to extend to the

(25 million years
west (Basin and Range). This extension

eventually resulted in "to the west" movement,

reversed in part older thrust fault throw, and

increased structural closure on Kings Meadow

Ranches-like anticlines.


The Wolverine Gas & Oil prolific oil wells

prove that the Central Utah thrust belt is a

potentially productive area et least 150 miles

long and 50 miles wide and has giant and

supergiant oil field potential.

Seismic, gravity, geochemistry, and surface

geology identify at least 30 anomalies worthy

of further seismic evaluation and drilling.

Billions of barrels of oil have been generated,

contained, and preserved along the structural

trends of central Utah.

Oil rich source rocks are:

Lower Cretaceous (primary)

Permian (primary)

Mississippian (primary)

Precambrian Chuar (secondary)

Sedimentary and tectonic events sequence, oldest towards top

Area -->
Canadian fold and

Overthrust Belt
Overthrust Belt

Discovered September 1975
Discovered 1924

pp. 44-47
Pineview field
Turner Valley field

A hingeline with
A hingeline with some

thickening to the west
thickening to the west

Before the
Similar uplift not
Similar uplift not


Late Triassic to
The Nugget sandstone
Nugget-Navajo sandstone

Early Jurassic
producing formation in
not present in Canada

the Wyoming overthrust is

equivalent to the Navajo.

Average porosity 9%

Early Jurassic
Similar uplift not
Similar uplift not


Early Jurassic
Similar rift not present
Similar rift not present

Early Jurassic
No similar fautt present
No similar fault present

Early to Late
East-vergent, flat
East-vergent, fiat


Structural shortening
Structural shortening

is 50%
is 50%

No similar arch is
No similar arch is

present under the


Early Tertiary
No similar rift is
No similar rift is


Early to Late
In southwestern Wyoming
Lower Cretaceous source

thick Tertiary forced
rocks under Turner Valley

thick, organic-rich
were forced down into the

sediments down to the
oil window by Tertiary

oil window.

Late Oligocene
Same "to the west"
Same "to the west"

(25 million years
extension but perhaps of
extension but perhaps of

lesser magnitude
lesser magnitude


The giant and supergiant
The giant and supergiant

oil and gas fields
oil and gas fields are

producing in the Wyoming
in several east-vergent

Overthrust Belt are in a
thrust plates in an area

75-mile-long, 20 mile
900 miles long and 30

wide area and are limited
miles wide.

to the top, east-vergent

thrust plate.

Oil rich source
Oil rich source

rocks are:
rocks are:

Lower Cretaceous
Lower Cretaceous


Permian (secondary)
Devonian (primary)

Geologic conclusions

A giant oil field appears to have been found in the Central Utah thrust belt below Jurassic salt.

The geologic conditions for the trapping of hydrocarbons is more favorable in central Utah than in Wyoming. Although the thrusting is similar in age and magnitude, oil in the Central Utah thrust belt has migrated from both the west and the east, thereby significantly increasing the possibility of oil in all thrusted structural trends, not just the eastern Absaroka thrust as in the Wyoming salient.

Production in central Utah may be more like the Canadian thrust belt, with the exception that Utah's fields will contain more oil than gas and be lower in sulfur content while Canada's reserves are high sulfur and more gas prone.
Early exploration techniques

Seismic data will be definitive for the locations of the many wells we know will soon be drilled.

However, older seismic data in the Central Utah thrust belt is spotty. It is fair in some areas but poor in others. Data from old wells, gravity and magnetic data, surface geology, and geochemistry are all helpful until new vintage seismic takes over.

One exploration tool we have found useful is a satellite technique of measuring relative amounts of kaolinite in surface rocks. Microseepage of hydrocarbons creates a reducing environment, either stabilizing the kaolinite or altering other clay minerals to form kaolinite.n10

A geochemical anomaly, caused by kaolinite abundance, is present at the Wolverine discovery well and is repeated over and over along the structural trends caused by the various oil trapping thrust fault structures over an area at least 150 miles long and 40 miles wide in the Central Utah thrust belt trend.

At least 30 of these geochemical anomalies appear to be located on or adjacent to gravity-defined structural culminations and look very much like the gravity residual anomaly and geochemical anomaly we mapped at Wolverine's discovery.
Drilling activity

Wolverine could have three to five rigs active in the area during the summer of 2005.

We suspect it will not only drill the other four structural closures within its 65,000-acre unit but may even test other prospects outside the unit.

Lion Oil Co., a private Denver independent, has shown interest to drill a Navajo sandstone well in the northeastern part of 13s-1e, in the foothill area southeast of Nephi, Utah. A significant residual gravity anomaly indicates this to be a large, northerly trending anticline. We also note several geochemical anomalies along this same structural trend. This area is 60 miles north of Wolverine's discovery (Fig. 5).

A third major oil producing segment of the western North American Overthrust Belt is now defined in central Utah. Geologic comparison to the 75 mile productive trend in Wyoming and the 960+-mile productive trend in Canada indicates the Utah salient should:

1. Be much larger than the Wyoming thrust belt trend.

2. Contain significantly more recoverable oil and gas reserves than have been discovered in Wyoming.

3. Exhibit the striking similarities to the Canadian thrust belt of multiple, productive thrust trends and Paleozoic hydrocarbons being sourced from the western hingeline area.
n1. Sieverding, J.L., and Royce, F., Jr., "Whitney Canyon-Carter Creek field: Gas production from carbonate reservoirs in a thrust-belt setting, Western Wyoming, USA," abs., AAPG Bull., Vol. 75, No. 3, 1991, p. 672.
n2. Scholten, R., "Synchronous Highs: Preferential Habitat of Oil," AAPG Bull., Vol. 43, No. 8, 1959.
n3. Reynolds, M.R., "Influence of Re current Laramide Strucutral Growth on Sedimentation and Petroleum Accumulation, Lost Soldier Area, Wyoming," AAPG Bull., Vol. 60, No. 1, 1976.
n4. Loucks, G.G., 1975, "The search for Pineview Field, Summit County, Utah," in "Symposium on deep drilling frontiers of the central Rocky Mountains," RMAG, 1975, pp. 255-264.
n5. Schelling, D.D., and Wavrek, D.A., "Structural Geology and Petroleum Systems of the Northwestern Wind River Basin, Wyoming," abs. AAPG Bull., Vol. 85, No. 13, 2001 (supplement).
n6. Stone, D.S., "Theory of Paleozoic Oil and Gas Accumulation in the Big Horn Basin, Wyoming," AAPG Bull., Vol. 51, No. 10, 1967, pp. 2,056-2,114.
n7. Moulton, F.C., "Lower Mesozoic and Upper Paleozoic Petroleum Potential of the Hingeline Area, Central Utah," in RMAG Guidebook, "Symposium on Geology on the Cordilleran Hingeline," 1976.
n8. Wallace, R.E., ed., "The San Andreas Fault System, California," USGS Professional Paper 1515, 1991.
n9. Hintze, L.F., and Davis, F.D., "Geology of Millard County, Utah," Bull. 133, Utah Geologic Survey, 2003.
n10. Schumacher, D., "Hydrocarbon Induced Alteration of Soils and Sediments," in Schumacher, D., and Abrams, M.A., eds., "Hydrocarbon migration and its near-surface expression," AAPG Memoir 66, 1996, pp. 71 89.
The authors
Floyd Moulton is a consulting geologist in Salt Lake City. He spent 26 years with Phillips Petroleum Co. including 8 as area manager for the Overthrust of western North America. He worked 4 years with Anschutz Corp. in the drilling of Anschutz Ranch and Anschutz Ranch East fields in Wyoming and Utah. He has worked 35 years to unravel the geologic complexities of the Central Utah thrust belt, including the last 21 as a consultant. He has BS and MS degrees in geology from Brigham Young University.
Michael L. Pinnell ( is exploration manger for Pioneer Oil & Gas, where he has been employed for 15 years. He first worked for Exxon Co. USA in Texas but was drawn to the Rockies in 1976. His work has concentrated mostly in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. Interest in the Central Utah thrust belt began with a thesis mapping project in 1969. His specialty is innovative geologic concept illustrations. He has BS and MS degrees in geology from BYU.

Powers, R.B., "Oil and Gas Potential of Wyoming-Utah-Idaho Overthrust Belt -- Relation to Canadian Foothills Province Analog," abs. AAPG Bull., Vol. 69, 1980, p. 767.
Rosenfeld, J.K., et al., "Oil-to-Source Correlation -- Pineview Field, Over-thrust Belt, Utah," abs. AAPG Bull., Vol. 64, 1980, p. 776.

GRAPHIC: Figure 1, THRUST BELT TREND OF WESTERN NORTH AMERICA; Figure 2, CENTRAL UTAH THRUST BELT STRUCTURE ON JURASSIC NAVAJO SANDSTONE, Source: Wolverine handout at NAPE Prospect Expo, Utah Divison of Oil, Gas & Mining, and IHS Energy 10-18-2004 Base map from US Geological Survey. Map and geology by Floyd Moulton.; Figure 3, WEST-EAST STRUCTURE ACROSS WOLVERINE'S CENTRAL UTAH DISCOVERY, Source: Geology by Floyd Moulton; Figure 4, WESTERN NORTH AMERICA THRUST BELT OIL, GAS PRODUCING AREAS; Figure 5, CENTRAL UTAH THRUST BELT TECTONIC ELEMENTS, Source: Geology by Floyd Moulton; Photos 1 and 2, no caption

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