Last week, we spoke with Jacob Darrah, Senior GIS and Remote Sensing Manager with the Thrasher Group, to learn more about the firm and discuss their capabilities in assisting oil and natural gas companies in the Appalachian Basin. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. To start, could you introduce The Thrasher Group and give a brief history of your practice?
The Thrasher Group is a 500-person company with eight offices around the mid-Atlantic region. We’re a full-service firm, providing assistance in civil engineering, environmental consulting, surveying, construction management, and related disciplines. We started with a focus on engineering, but as we’ve expanded, we’ve grown our presence in the oil and gas sector. Our survey and geospatial capabilities are a big part of that – with one of the largest survey crews in the region, we’re able to provide a wider variety of services than many of our competitors.
I became part of that team as a remote sensing manager two years ago when Thrasher acquired my previous company, Blue Mountain Aerial Mapping and Survey. I’ve been doing remote sensing for the last twelve years, and for the last 10 of those years, it’s been focused on oil and gas work in the Marcellus Shale.
With remote sensing, we can collect data without touching a physical location. For example, if there’s a slip detected somewhere, we’re off to the side or up in the air collecting information about that slip. It also includes aerial mapping, GIS (geographic information system mapping), LIDAR (light detection and ranging), etc.
Q. How do you support your clients in the energy space?
Each spring, right after the snow melts and before the leaves grow, one of the big things the remote sensing team does for our oil and gas clients in the Marcellus region is fly over the area with a manned aircraft. When our clients are getting ready to build a well pad or pipeline, they come to us for aerial photography and engineering grade mapping.
Q. What would you say differentiates The Thrasher Group from other engineering and environmental consultancy firms?
First, I would say our experience – we’ve been doing survey, engineering, construction services, and environmental work with oil and gas clients since the Marcellus started taking off. Another differentiator is the amount of data that we have and keep in house. We have a backlog of historical aerial data, which allows our clients to go back in the archives for information anywhere from five to ten years ago.
Secondly, not a lot of companies fly over as large of an area as we do; we’ve been flying over about 6 million acres each year since 2010. This gives us a unique advantage for engineering mapping once leaves come back in the spring and getting good ground data is a more complex task.
Q. What value have you experienced since becoming a member of the MSC?
Personally, I value having the opportunity to see the legal and policy side of the industry. I’m so involved with the technical side, so I don’t get a lot of exposure to what is happening in the policy front. So, getting that experience and getting to talk with people who have that high knowledge has been very beneficial to me.
Q. If there is one thing you want to tell a neighbor or friend who is unfamiliar with the industry, what would that be?
I think a lot of the national media articles are written in a negative light. It’s important for people to understand just how essential natural gas and oil is to our everyday lives. And the amount of regulations that we have to go through – a lot of people don’t know that we must be in compliance with a whole list of things before we can even dig anything. Overall, I think the best way to put it is there’s a lack of education around the subject, which needs to change.