SEISMIC EXPLORATION: Seismic contractors encourage rebound by adding value

March 1, 2001
Fewer operators and larger individual fleets

The number of seismic vessels, which peaked in 1999 at 193, has been diminishing ever since. Last year saw a drop in worldwide fleet size to 157 vessels, and although a large number of vessels changed hands in the course of 2000, the operating fleet size as of today has dropped even further, to about 150.

Although seismic companies experienced slightly more activity in 2000 than in 1999, the payoff remained small for operators. Today, profit margins are still low. The seismic industry was the last to recover from the downturn in exploration and production two years ago, when the cost per bbl of oil barely clung to a double-digit figure. In order to stay afloat, a number of seismic companies now are changing their business approach.

Some seismic contractors got out of the vessel business last year. Aker Maritime sold its fleet to CGG Marine, which now operates a fleet of five vessels.

Horizon Exploration, following a sustained period of financial hardship, is no longer an operator and is now in administration, selling off the remainder of its fleet.


Meanwhile, other companies are expanding and consolidating. Western Geophysical and Geco-Prakla merged last year to form the new entity WesternGeco, which now has the largest seismic fleet in the world, with a combined 46 vessels (the firm declined to participate in the 2001 vessel survey; readers are asked to refer to the March 2000 survey).

Some WesternGeco retirements may be possible, and information should be forthcoming once fleet evaluation is complete. Some of the vessels may be redundant and either sold or decommissioned. There is little likelihood that the number will diminish the fleet significantly enough to move it out of first place position in terms of size. WesternGeco's willingness to divest excess marine vessels might play into the hands of smaller operators looking to expand their fleets.

Veritas DGC, Inc., will add to its seismic fleet in the coming year with the launch of the Veritas Viking III. While expanding its seismic fleet, the firm is also marketing its data library with a step out into new territory through a joint venture with WesternGeco and IndigoPool. This venture will develop industry-wide e-commerce standards and new technology to publish, market, and license multi-client seismic data on line.

The combined multi-client seismic libraries of WesternGeco and Veritas total over 3 million linear km of 2D data and 540,000 sq km of 3D data. The library, which covers every oil and gas-producing area in the world, will soon be published on the web site.

In addition, Veritas is broadening its services to include reservoir characterization with the recent acquisition of Reservoir Characterization Research and Consulting (RC2). This acquisition expands Veritas' offerings to include specialized reservoir services.

PGS, a considerable presence with the second largest fleet in the industry, has focused on capability in order to get an edge in the industry. PGS is one of few companies continuing to invest money in four-component (4C) capability, which utilizes a three-component geophone and a single hydrophone to measure the same signals as a standard ocean bottom cable (OBC) array. The difference between the two is quality, but that quality comes at a cost.

A 4C survey requires more sensors, which equates to more expense, but the resultant data is more valuable because it is more accurate. With the number of areas that are opening up for 4C surveys, PGS is banking on seeing a return on its investment. The company has recently transferred one of its six-streamer deep water vessels, Ocean Explorer, to the PGS Reservoir Services group for 4C operations, initially in the US GoM.

2001 worldwide survey

The following 2001 Worldwide Survey of Seismic Vessels and Contractors shows statistics for 104 vessels, a difference of 53 vessels from last year's listing. The 104-vessel total discounts the 46 vessels now owned and operated by WesternGeco. In assessing acquisition capability and acquisition experience, 4D statistics have been replaced with 4C statistics to better reflect a significant technology in the industry. Otherwise, the survey displays the same types of information as previous years.

The information includes the year the vessel was rigged or converted, vessel measurements, streamer information and configuration, year 2000 source array configuration, year 2000 acquisition experience, technical capabilities, onboard processing, final primary recording media, and delivery time.

Editor's Note: An asterisk (*) following a company's name indicates that the company did not provide an update and that the information listed was not provided by the contractor. Limited information is presented for companies that could not be contacted.)

Click here to view 2001 Worldwide Survey of Seimic Vessels and Contractors

This survey is in PDF format and will open in a new window