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Petroleum News: Busy times for seismic crews in Alaska’s Arctic

Only WesternGeco has vessel availability for Alaska OCS work; PGS and Veritas land crews continue active programs
Alan Bailey
Interest in shooting seismic offshore Alaska is heating up. ConocoPhillips has announced plans to conduct seismic surveys in the Chukchi Sea and Petroleum News has already reported that Shell will shoot 3D seismic in the Beaufort Sea in the summer of 2006, using WesternGeco’s MV Gilavar.
Alaska newcomer Eni Petroleum has said it is thinking of partnering with Shell in the Beaufort survey.
In late January, the National Marine Fisheries Service told Petroleum News that Shell is in the process of applying for an Incidental Harassment Authorization for seismic work in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and that Kerr-McGee is talking about a seismic survey closer to shore in the Beaufort.
But with oil and natural gas prices maintaining high levels, marine seismic crews equipped for working in Arctic waters seem in short supply. And work in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas generally requires vessels with hulls that have been strengthened for ice conditions.
WesternGeco, the only company that appears currently to have Arctic-equipped vessels available for the summer of 2006, is enthusiastic about returning to the Alaska outer continental shelf.
“Right now WesternGeco does have the resources. We do have vessel availability for working offshore Alaska,” Elaine Buck, the company’s marketing manager for North America, told Petroleum News on Feb. 14. “…We’re very committed to being back in Alaska with 3D marine acquisition … we will be in Alaska in 2006.”
WesternGeco sees the increasing interest in the Beaufort Sea and offshore Alaska, Buck said.
“We’ve noticed that there is an increase in activity going on. The interest is there,” Buck said. “We know that more and more of the super majors are coming back to re-evaluate Alaska offshore and onshore.”
And Buck said that her company enjoys an extensive history of working in the Beaufort Sea.
“Back in the ‘90s we were shooting multi-client data in the Beaufort Sea, so we do have vessels that are equipped for working in the (Arctic) marine environment,” she said.
PGS and Veritas
Two other companies consistently active in Alaska in recent years, PGS Geophysical and Veritas DGC, have marine divisions with vessels strengthened for Arctic work. But neither of these companies have boats available for this summer’s seismic survey season offshore Alaska.
PGS actually bid on a ConocoPhillips offshore Alaska job, but the boat that the company planned on using was assigned to another contract before any commitment to Alaska work, Larry Watt, PGS Onshore Inc.’s area manager for Alaska, told Petroleum News. PGS’s worldwide fleet of 12 streamer vessels includes some ice-strengthened boats, he said.
“We’ve worked every summer around the Sakhalin Islands but they’re all busy right now for this summer,” Watt said.
PGS also operates boats in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Brazil and offshore Africa. If a boat became available for use offshore Alaska, it could take anywhere from two weeks to a month for the boat to sail to Alaska waters, Watt said.
Veritas, with a worldwide fleet of 10 vessels (including two under contract), is also fully booked at the moment.
“From the marine perspective our backlog in other areas of the world is such that we did not have any vessels available to meet the requirements for the (2006) summer activity (offshore Alaska),” Jerry Hastings, general manager for Veritas Land in Alaska, told Petroleum News Feb. 15.
Busy onshore
But both PGS and Veritas are active onshore in Alaska.
PGS maintains two seismic crews on the North Slope, one of which is currently engaged in seismic projects, Watt said. A 90-person crew supports 3D data acquisition and a 65-person crew supports 2D acquisition. The 3D crew is equipped for high-resolution data acquisition involving 10,000 or more channels, he said. And all of the field equipment is configured for minimum impact on the tundra, using state-of-the-art rubber tracked vehicles and mobile camps on sleighs.
“They’re the newest camps up there — we bought one in 2000 and one in 2001,” Watt said. “… All of our recording equipment, including the vibrators, is rubber tracked and articulated.”
In the past couple of winters a PGS crew based on the North Slope has also done seismic acquisition in the Glennallen and Nenana areas of the Alaska Interior.
Veritas maintains two Alaska onshore crews, with one crew on the North Slope and one in the Cook Inlet area. Both crews are currently busy.
“We have a crew in the Cook Inlet that’s working on four different proprietary programs this winter,” Hastings said. “We have a crew on the North Slope — a large 3D crew — that’s working on three proprietary acquisitions.”
And Hastings sees continuing demand, especially given the number of new exploration companies that have been coming to Alaska.
“We’re seeing a typical level of activity this winter that we have enjoyed for the last six year,” he said. “But we are seeing an increase in the number of prospective clients.”
Like PGS, Veritas operates low ground-impact vehicles for its Alaska operations. State-of-the-art seismic vibrator technologies create signals for high-resolution recordings that involve thousands of channels.
Hastings said that clients tend to start contracting recording crews as early as June for the upcoming winter onshore seismic season in Alaska.
“I think as demand goes up for crews that may change a little bit, where people are looking at maybe a longer term approach,” he said.
Hastings sees the possibility of increasing the number of Alaska crews if the demand for services reaches a high enough level. However, at a cost of perhaps $30 million, outfitting a new crew becomes an expensive proposition. And obtaining enough trained and experienced personnel could prove problematic.
For example there is a limited number of people with the expertise to maintain the equipment.
“As the crew count increases then they’re in great demand,” Hastings said.
PGS and Veritas also support what’s known as transition zone acquisition — the acquisition of seismic data in shallow water close to shore, such as the area inside the barrier islands of the Beaufort Sea coast. That type of acquisition requires a specialized approach and, in northern Alaska, normally requires ice-free conditions during the summer. PGS operates two transition zone crews worldwide, while Veritas uses a North Slope-based land crew for this type of work.

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