Global seismic vessel roundup

Seismic vessels are the lifeblood of global offshore exploration efforts. Jeannie Stell searches for bright spots in the current global market of seismic vessel activity. 

The Sanco Sword.
From Dolphin Geophysical. 

Global offshore seismic-acquisition activity is decreasing as the price of oil stubbornly remains below US$70/bbl.

“With current oil prices, exploration has slowed significantly and demand for seismic vessels has dropped off,” says Matthew Jurecky, GlobalData’s head of Oil & Gas Research and Consulting. “In response to low utilization rates, operators are stacking and even converting vessels.”

Jurecky says that exploration and production companies will announce exploration budgets towards the end of the year, but predicts that after the traumatic price drop and persistent uncertainty, the trend in lower geosciences spending could continue into next year.

“Discretionary spending on multi-client shoots has been cut and, while projects where capital has already been committed will carry on, you could see a looser market as they are fulfilled,” he tells OE.

Also, the sector’s ability to quickly respond to changing market conditions might also be detrimental to its quick recovery. “In the current market, vessels are available in fairly short notice if needed for a survey. This oversupply has only worsened, so there will be additional downsizing of fleets, vessels being stacked, and new builds converted to other types. A balance is needed; too few vessels will lead to too much time spent in mobilization, however, the market is a ways off from this.”

Jurecky says that some awarded projects have been withdrawn as “E&P measures have proved too drastic to balance budgets.” Projects in Africa or Brazil, for example, have stalled.

“There is relatively more strength in demand from NOCs (national oil companies) contracting seismic than from IOCs (international oil companies),” he says. “The catalyst for demand will be upcoming bid rounds through 2018. Projects have gone forward in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, Greenland, New Zealand, the Great Australian Bight, and the Gulf of Mexico. There are also rounds in countries such as Egypt, Mozambique, Ireland, and Barbados, and the US is planning a license on the east coast.”

Consultancy firm, Visiongain, agrees, and reports that overall spending on marine seismic equipment and acquisition will fall significantly in 2015 due to the oil price collapse, and then gradually recover in line with oil prices.

“However it will take years to reach CAPEX levels witnessed in 2014,” the firm reports. “Visiongain has calculated that, in 2015, the global marine seismic equipment market is worth $784.3 million and the global acquisition market is worth approximately $4.6 billion. What will drive the markets going forward is the need to meet future fidelity challenges, growing energy demand and recovering oil prices.”

Elsewhere, some regions that have been essentially been closed for decades to international exploration companies, such as Mexico and Myanmar, have finally opened up in recent years. Because seismic vessel operators are often the first industry sector to reap the rewards of these new exploration opportunities, these regions also represent bright spots for fleet owners.

“Business in the Asia Pacific region is becoming more consistent,” Visiongain reports. “4C will gain some market share in established areas such as the North Sea. Africa is also a growing region, and with the opening up of the Mexican part of Gulf of Mexico, North America will also see growth.”


In North America, the historic opening up of Mexico’s oil and gas sector, and especially its offshore assets, brings a wealth of new opportunities to the offshore seismic acquisition markets. Poised and ready as a first-mover, PGS snagged the trophy as the first to be awarded a multi-client 2D seismic program offshore Mexico on 16 May. The company’s two 2D vessels, Atlantic Explorer and Sanco Spirit, worked to acquire seismic on multiple projects, including the Mexico Well Tie MC2D. The surveys were acquired using PGS-proprietary GeoStreamer technology.

SeaBird Exploration has also been reaping the rewards of Mexico’s market liberalization. When Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH) authorized the acquisition of an 181,500km regional 2D seismic survey, known as Gigante, and awarded to TGS the work permit, the company tapped SeaBird to supply the hardware. The survey will use four SeaBird Exploration vessels to acquire an extensive regional grid of 2D multi-client seismic with 12,000km offsets.

TGS began seismic acquisition of the Gigante survey on 30 June, and the data will be processed by TGS with initial fast-track results expected in 3Q 2015. The Gigante survey will include gravity and magnetic data with a regional seismic structural interpretation. Gigante will include coverage of producing trends such as the Perdido fold belt and Campeche Bay, and line ties will be made to the US Gulf of Mexico regional grids previously acquired by TGS.


The Scarlett Isabella. 

Offshore Myanmar, seismic activity is increasing after the country recently emerged from decades of sanction-driven isolation, with a major offshore licensing round held last year. To support the activity, CGG opened a subsurface imaging center in the capital city, Yangon, in 2014.

In March, Dolphin Geophysical began a 3D data acquisition program covering 10,000sq km for Ophir Energy. The acquisition employs a seismic spread of 12 streamers, 7050m in length, with 150m streamer separation trailing from the Sanco Sword. This configuration of equipment has a moving width of 1.850m and the seismic spread covers a total area of about 12sq km.

Kuwait and Thailand

Kuwait is renewing its offshore exploration efforts, and awarded a contract for a 3D seismic survey for Kuwait Oil Co. (KOC) to BGP Marine, a division of China National Petroleum Corp. This is the first offshore 3D contract ever awarded by KOC. Multiple types of seismic sources will be used in this project, including vibroseis, explosives, and shallow and deep air gun sources. Also, BGP was recently awarded a contract by Salamander Energy, for an ocean-bottom node survey in the Gulf of Thailand. The 3D/4C OBN survey will employ 2600 Geospace OBX nodes and the recently rigged Dong Fang Kan Tan #2 node-handling vessel.

Colombia and Madagascar

Other exploration regions showing increased activity include Colombia and Madagascar. In March, CGG announced a new contract with a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum. According to the contract, CGG will acquire and process a 16,314sq km 3D seismic survey offshore Colombia, which will set the record as the largest marine seismic program ever acquired in Colombia to date. This contract follows CGG’s successful completion of Anadarko’s 5500sq km 3D Fuerte survey offshore Colombia in 2013.

The survey, covering portions of the Col-1 and Col-2 blocks, will be acquired by the Oceanic Sirius and Oceanic Vega. Each vessel will tow a 12 x 120 x 8100m spread using Sercel’s Sentinel steerable solid streamers and CGG’s proprietary Dovetail acquisition system. The survey began in 2Q 2015, and the data will be processed in CGG’s Houston subsurface imaging center later in the year.

In April, CGG was hired by London-based explorer Sterling Energy to begin a 1250sq km 3D seismic survey on the Ambilobe Block offshore Madagascar. The acquisition contract was undertaken on behalf of the Ambilobe Block joint venture partners, Sterling (operator) and Pura Vida, which each hold a 50% interest. The 3D seismic survey is the partnership’s first on the Ambilobe Block.


But, the focus is not just on new or underexplored regions. In Australia, after the potential for a new oil play was discovered at Phoenix South by Apache last year, new seismic acquisition is needed. In April, while setting the record as the largest single 3D survey ever acquired offshore Australia, Polarcus reached the 50%-completion milestone in the acquisition of seismic data for the Capreolus 3D multi-client project. According to the project plans, Polarcus will acquire a minimum area of 22,130sq km of high resolution broadband 3D seismic data, including coverage over the Phoenix South-1 oil discovery and surrounding blocks, in an area previously assumed to be gas prone.

The 2014 Phoenix South oil discovery, in permit WA-435-P, could indicate a new oil reservoir fairway in one of the few remaining underexplored parts of Australia’s northwest shelf. The Capreolus 3D survey is expected to cover various Triassic and Jurassic structural and stratigraphic traps.

The seismic acquisition project commenced activities in early January 2015 with two Polarcus A-Class 3D seismic vessels, the Polarcus Amani and the Polarcus Asima, operating in simultaneous-acquisition mode to maximize production. The technique delivered more than 11,000sq km of 3D seismic data to the company in less than three months. The data is currently being processed through to pre-stack depth migration by DownUnder GeoSolutions based in Perth, Australia, with final data products expected to be delivered by 1Q 2016.

North Sea

The North Sea, often seen as a mature basin, but with underexplored plays, has also been getting attention. In May, French seismic firm CGG launched a western extension of the Horda BroadSeis-BroadSource 3D multi-client data program it began acquiring in the northern North Sea in 2014. The extension, known as Tampen, is in the Northern Viking Graben offshore Norway and the UK and is expected to be completed in 2016. It will add 17,000sq km of data to the 18,000sq km Horda survey to provide 35,000sq km of contiguous and uniform broadband seismic data coverage.

The Tampen survey covers mature, high-potential areas of Statfjord, Gullfaks, Snorre and Osberg, among others. The overall Horda multi-client program will include geological context and a prospectivity review, potential field data, satellite hydrocarbon seep imagery, a high-quality well database, biostratigraphy, sedimentology and geochemistry data, and seismic reservoir characterization products supported by reservoir-quality seismic data.

Offshore wind farms

Elsewhere, seismic companies that are experiencing a fall off of work due to low oil prices can look for new markets in the offshore wind energy sector. For example, the Scarlett Isabella was used as a seismic vessel to map the sea floor some 13mi offshore Ocean City, Maryland, in the Delaware Bay.

The survey, conducted for the US Geological Survey, completed the seafloor data mapping project offshore of the Delmarva Peninsula on 25 July 2014. The project covered some 94sq mi to gather data that could help place up to 40 huge wind turbines there to generate power.

"It's starting to get real, this offshore wind stuff," said Andrew Gohn, senior clean energy program manager for the Maryland Energy Administration, in a public statement. “We've got boats, we've got data.”

The geophysical survey was conducted for Maryland by Coastal Planning & Engineering of St. Petersburg, Florida. Maryland officials hope the data gathered through the $3.5 million contract will help prospective wind energy developers figure out where to build the offshore wind turbines. 

Current News

Esgian Week 16 Report: Rigs on the Move

Esgian Week 16 Report: Rigs on

NOIA Appoints New Executives

NOIA Appoints New Executives

New York Not Moving Forward With Three Offshore Wind Farms

New York Not Moving Forward Wi

DNV Awards Certificates for Fortescue’s Dual-fueled Ammonia-powered Vessel

DNV Awards Certificates for Fo

Subscribe for OE Digital E‑News

Offshore Engineer Magazine