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Multi-client scenario best hope for seismic players

Oil companies are increasingly spoiled for choice in any ocean-bottom node (OBN) strategy, with no obvious shortage of nodal capacity and operators in the market place, writes Andrew McBarnet.

iSeismic, a subsidiary of Norwegian survey and rig positioning company iSurvey, will soon add to the competition, and others may follow the perceived investment opportunity.

The level of demand and differentiating technology will therefore determine future operations.

The best future scenario is for a serious multi-client market to develop. TGS, which a few years ago was responsible for commissioning a third of all towed-streamer surveys on a multi-client basis, has been making moves in this direction.

It has launched the first phase of Amendment, a 2350-square kilometre seismic survey in the Mississippi Canyon and Atwater Valley areas of the deep-water US Gulf of Mexico, with Schlumberger as a partner.

Magseis Fairfield is carrying out the project with ZXPLR nodes and remotely operated vehicles.

As Will Ashby, TGS senior vice president, North America, explains: “This is the first ultra-long offset, sparse node survey aimed at obtaining new velocity information to better image the subsalt.

“The data can then be processed by the latest full-wave imaging and other techniques. Owning the underlying data from previous surveys makes this particularly attractive for us.”

UK supermajor BP for its part has developed the Wolfspar seismic source focused on capturing low-frequency seismic data.

The technology, along with the subsequent sophisticated processing of the data, has been credited for making possible BP’s recent discovery of more than 1 billion additional barrels of oil in place at its Thunder Horse subsalt field in the Gulf of Mexico.

TGS is also co-investing with Axxis Geo Solutions on a first multi-client project in the North Sea, a 1500 square kilometre survey using node-on-a-rope technology.

Meanwhile, oil company customers will want to drive down the price of seabed surveys.

The leading players are all focused on speeding up surveys by automating the deployment and retrieval of nodes, but so far deployment at much more than 2 knots per hour is rare.

After six years in development, Norwegian node system supplier inApril is manufacturing the first nodes for its Venator OBN system, which it claims will produce significant improvements in speed and efficiency.

An interesting futuristic project is Saudi Aramco’s Spicerack initiative being developed mainly by the company’s EXPEC Advanced Research Centre and SBGS.

It envisions OBN surveys carried out by autonomous underwater vehicles with the promise of major efficiencies and lower costs. A second pilot feasibility test with 200 vehicles is due this summer.

Spicerack and remotely operated technology being researched by others would be genuinely transformative. Such developments, however, are a few years out.

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