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Monday, 29 March 2010

Exploration Hardware: Advances for Harsh Environments

Vladimir Boreyko
General Representative in Russia & CIS

Robert Heath
Global Technical Marketing Manager

In an economic downturn, the exploration sector can sometimes bear the brunt of companies cost cutting. How did this affect your business in Russia last year and what are your forecast for 2010 and beyond?

Vladimir Boreyko: 2009 has indeed been a tough year for the exploration industry and our clients in Russia. Though our sales were nearly halved, our presence and the adequacy of our equipment to the Russian market is allowing us to remain optimistic on the long term and particularly to maintain our human capital in Russia. Having said that, we estimate that 2010 will not be much better than 2009, as our customers have had to reduce their margins, and thus will have less cash to invest in equipment.

Robert Heath: iSeis is new to Russia (although its parent is not) and iSeis marketing activities only started in Russia in late 2009. However, given the advantages of the technology we have on offer (we have the world’s only Second Generation Cableless Land Seismic Acquisition System, called "Sigma"), and the difficulties of operating in the Russian environment (where 2nd generation cableless gear is ideal) we are most confident of success. We have already established a well known agent and plan Sigma system demonstrations.

Many unexplored areas of Russia are found in extremely harsh environments. With the cost of oil seemingly stabilizing. What opportunities do you see in areas such as Eastern Siberia and the Arctic? Have the recent tax incentives spurred activity in the region?

Vladimir Boreyko: Seismic exploration is the first activity to arrive in unexplored areas just after the geologist so we are indeed at the forefront of these trends. We do deliver more and more equipment to these regions, with configurations that are getting bigger and bigger.

Robert Heath: The tougher the environment, the more it suits Sigma. This is because operators will have tended to avoid these locations knowing the limitations of existing technology. They will find it a relief that new technology now solves their problems, effectively safely opening up new frontiers for seismic exploration.

What advancements have you made to your hardware to survive and thrive in these arctic areas?

Vladimir Boreyko: Sercel equipment has been operated in areas such as Siberia, the Komi republic, Yakutia, Canada and Alaska for several decades, so we have a significant experience of work in arctic conditions. This experience covers the whole scope of our equipment, from special connectors on our geophone strings to power management on our acquisition systems or vibrator design.

In cold weather, the battery management is critical. Our Data Acquisition systems have been designed to optimize power consumption and to reduce the number of batteries in the field (single channel configuration; power through the line). As an example, our 428XL land acquisition system typically uses five times fewer batteries than a competitor’s system.

Our experience can also be witnessed on our vibrators, on -50 degrees centigrade reinforced winterization, or on the design of the tracks.

Robert Heath: Power supply is a major issue as temperature drops. We do not rely on power-hungry power transmission along cables, thus our power loss is much less and we can make use of the latest hi-tech batteries with high power densities and low temperature characteristics.

In a previous issue of ROGTEC (issue 18), we discussed the need for a cost effective solution for operators to enable real time 3D and 4D seismic on producing fields across Russia and the CIS. What hardware solutions can you provide to improve their effectiveness in the DOF arena?

Vladimir Boreyko: It is well known that high-density seismic is a proven tool for improving the signal-to-noise ratio as well as the vertical resolution of the data. To shoot a high-density survey (high CMP fold and small bin), the seismic contractor should possess a high-channel count recording system with the number of active channels exceeding 10,000 and modern high-productivity field techniques like multi-fleet vibroseis. We are glad to report that the first high-density survey in CIS was successfully acquired in Kazakhstan in 2009 with the aid of our recording equipment and our vibrator electronics.

The weight and power consumption of field equipment are gradually decreasing, thus allowing the seismic contractors to shoot more productive and less expensive 3D seismic surveys.

Robert Heath: It is not clear what is meant by "real time 3D and 4D". Sigma is the only 2nd generation cableless system which has real time data monitoring capabilities. However, it also has many other modes, both in stand-alone operation and to augment existing cable-based hardware. It has by far the best level of source control integration of any system on the market (because its parent company is the world's leader is development of source controllers). This provides additional levels of flexibility for any 3D operation.

As regards 4D, cableless systems are what makes 4D viable on a larger scale. We have made significant sales into this market already and new types of 4D (such as "Rapid Deployment 4D") are planned around the advantages of Sigma.

How can seismic contractors improve the data quality of the survey through the hardware that they use?

Vladimir Boreyko: We have brought many innovations to the market, that bring improved data quality. Our latest geophone has an extremely low distortion and is less sensitive to tilt, our digital sensors are not sensitive to crosstalk and have a response that is independent from the frequency. We have increased the bandwidth of our vibrators towards low frequencies, and we are currently introducing heavy vibrators into the Russian market.

Last, but not least, quality control is of essence on a seismic project. We have comprehensive quality control software allowing the observer to ensure, in real-time, that the data being recorded is OK. With our remote access option, the quality results can be made available in real-time anywhere in the world (e.g. at the head office of the contractor). This option is currently being widely used in Russia.

Robert Heath: This is very difficult question because it depends on how they currently operate their crews. However, generally speaking, data quality has been a compromise with such things as data productivity, operational costs and HSE exposure. Almost all cablefree/cableless systems offer increases in productivity compared to cable-based systems. However, the shoot-blind cableless systems can put data quality at risk as they have no means to monitor even basic QC functions. Thus, cableless systems with monitoring capability can increase productivity and reduce operational cost without risk, which can be used to augment data quality (e.g by better citing of receivers, optimising fold etc). Sticking with cable-based acquisition hardware virtually guarantees little data quality improvement because these systems are perfected almost as much as they can be. This will be hard pill to swallow for some operators as it also requires a change in attitude to exploration, but it is the only way forward.

What do you see as the next big technological step in exploration hardware?

Vladimir Boreyko: Reducing the cost of acquiring seismic data through productivity gains will be the key driver. While the market is pushing for more and more data to obtain a clearer image, the cost cannot go up proportionally. As the clear market leader in land acquisition, our 428XL system is continuously improving to maintain industry leading productivity. As an example, a record of more than 75000 live channels has been achieved recently in Colorado which utilized the vibrator controller VE464. Another record of more than 17000 Vibration points per day has been achieved in Oman. More productivity records are expected in the near future.

Robert Heath: There are two next big steps. One relates to sources and source control. The other relates to recording systems. In terms of sources and source control, there will be improvements in understanding how vibrators work so we can better estimate the far field signature and build control systems to allow for earth effects, we will also have more simultaneous impulsive sources. Both these require significant improvement in terms of how we develop source control systems. In terms of acquisition/recording systems, the main area of development will be in terms of getting more channels back over hi-tec radio systems, probably using mesh radio.

How can contractors minimise the environment impact of the survey through their choice of hardware?

Vladimir Boreyko: One interesting track is the use of heliportable crews. Bringing the equipment on site by helicopter and not vehicles, significantly reduces the environmental footprint of the seismic project, the cost of operation of the helicopter being counterbalanced by reduced tree cutting and increased productivity. To achieve this, the overall weight (weight by itself and reduced number of batteries) and the volume of the equipment is critical. Our acquisition system, which by its design and its reduced power consumption weight and volume, allows such operations in Canada and more recently in Russia.

Robert Heath: Immediately stop using cable-based acquisition systems. They are heavy and unreliable.

It has been a pleasure speaking with you - do you have any final comments.

Vladimir Boreyko: Yes. We want to mention that producing high-performance hardware in the industry is not enough. The technical support we offer to our customers is a key driver and it is a matter of daily attention to us.

We have developed our customer support in a network of several locations in the CIS in order to be as reactive and as close to our customers as possible, hence helping them to maximize the benefits of their investment in our equipment.

Robert Heath: The world is running short of easy-to-find hydrocarbons. The technology we used to find large fields in easy places will no more be the correct technology to use for the new era, than would propeller-driven planes be the answer to supersonic travel of aircraft able to carry 600 passengers. The philosophy of design of equipment needs to change to "fully independent hardware", where the hardware itself comes with no built-in restrictions in how it can be used - such limitations are definitely the case with most equipment used today. Independent equipment is the only way to go if we expect be find hydrocarbons in frontier basins, or the last oil in mature basins. Otherwise it will simply be too expensive to explore, too risky, too high HSE exposure. The great advantage of such new technologies is that they are not only much easier to buy, they are lower in cost to use.

Robert Heath has been involved in land seismic acquisition techniques, engineering and marketing since 1976 and written a large number of articles and papers on modern land acquisition. He has been involved in the start up of large number of new seismic instrumentation companies, and is at the forefront of bringing new technologies to improve land seismic.
posted by The Rogtec Team @ 13:58 


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