Members of the geophysical community have ample reason to pop the champagne corks these days -- but they’re too busy to indulge.
Whether offshore -- like the Western Neptune, left, acquiring a wide-azimuth seismic survey in the Gulf of Mexico -- or deep in undeveloped territory, the seismic industry is having no trouble finding work to keep them busy.
When you’re hot, you’re hot -- sizzling, in fact.
“It’s a very exciting time in the industry,” said Jonathan Miller, CEO at CGG Americas, “as exciting as I’ve witnessed in the last 26 years in the business.”
When it comes to action in the marine environment, the old reliable Gulf of Mexico continues to dominate.
“The Gulf of Mexico is still king,” Miller said. “The market will be very robust as long as the volume of lease sale turnover is robust, which is the case for the next several years.
“The political and economic environment surrounding this market is still very favorable,” Miller noted.
“It’s not only the super majors but the independents and even smaller players venturing further offshore to deeper water.”
Opposites Attract (Activity)
Indeed, most any discussion about the industry’s marine activity usually kicks off with the GOM.
“In the Gulf of Mexico, you hear repeatedly about all the lease expirations occurring in the deep water,” said John Adamick, vice president of business development worldwide at TGS-Nopec. “There’s a lot of seismic activity going on in the deep water.
“It’s activity in the form of sales of data we already have,” Adamick said, “and new projects going on to acquire new data. This is anticipated to be an active area for at least the next two years because of all the leases expiring out there.”
The action in the GOM deep gas shelf trend continues to be robust as well, Adamick noted. Operators are looking at everything from the ultra-deep -- think ExxonMobil Blackbeard still drilling away after more than a year in the quest to max out at 33,000 feet, give or take -- to the relatively shallow depths of 15,000 feet.
At the opposite end of the continent, the hot spot for marine seismic today is Alaska, according to Chip Gill, president of the Houston-based International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC). He qualified that it’s hot in terms of industry activity occurring in a place that hasn’t seen any action in quite some time.
Gill noted at least four seismic surveys kicked off this summer in the Chuckchi Sea: Shell Oil (two proprietary shoots), ConocoPhillips (one proprietary) and a 2-D multi-client survey conducted by GX Technology Corp. This activity precedes the Chuckchi lease sale, which is scheduled for 2007 by the Minerals Management Service (MMS).
Additionally, Shell plans to acquire data on lease areas from the 2005 Beaufort Sea lease sale conducted by the MMS.
In the international arena, Brazil remains an active market, along with Africa, according to Miller. He noted there’s a very robust market for onshore seismic data acquisition in the Middle East, which is not surprising given that’s where the largest reservoirs are located.
“This is the second year a lot of the bigger oil companies have ramped up for frontier exploration,” Adamick said. “Three years ago, they weren’t exploring in these frontier areas.
“We’re seeing very good activity in Greenland, and Madagascar is another hot area right now,” he noted. “Neither of these areas have commercial hydrocarbons today, but people believe there can be good discoveries made there.
“We’ve had good activity in the North Sea this year,” Adamick added, “and Russia continues to be quite active.
Although Russia hasn’t offered scheduled licensing rounds and often appears indecisive when it comes to encouraging foreign oil company investment, there’s a high interest level on the part of these companies, Adamick noted.
Seismic activity on the domestic scene also is going gangbusters, according to Jim White, president of Quantum Geophysical.
The company has seven crews running full tilt in the United States and one in Canada, which will be supplemented with some seasonal crews as the fall season approaches.
“The limiting factor now is permitting and drilling,” said White, who noted the need to drill in areas where explosives must be used.
“What might take five months to permit may only take two months to acquire, but seismic drills are a serious issue at this time,” he said. “The iron is there, but the people running the iron are not, so there’s a limited capacity of drills available to the industry.”
It’s noteworthy there’s a movement away from the usual turnkey arrangements and back to hourly or term contracts, which were standard a numbers of years ago.
“About 25 percent of all contracts now are hourly, or term, contracts,” White said. “The oil companies are realizing the supply (of crews) is limited, so to ensure having a crew at their disposal they’re tying it up with long-term hourly contracts.”