May 2015

What's new in exploration

Modern oil and gas exploration is good for the environment: Fact
William (Bill) Head / Contributing Editor

Associated Press recently posted a story that 75 “leading” scientists signed a petition (March 5, 2015), urging the White House to take action against the use of seismic air guns, especially in the U.S. Arctic or on the U.S. East Coast. The topic was embellished by this organization: 

I refer to a professional article for a simple overview of the use of air guns in exploration—“Arctic seismic acquisition and processing,” Shawn L. Rice, et al, ION Geophysical, p. 548, The Leading Edge, May 2013. Let us start our knowledge from there.

I have read that petition letter. Is this zealous, proper concern based on fact? I wonder how many of those 75 people have ever used an air gun in production (probably zero), ever seen an air gun in use by a seismic vendor (maybe zero), or have personally measured a production air-gun array’s output against the actual impact on a living marine mammal over the time inferred by the MMPA regulation.

Finding whales for value. Photo: Public domain.
Fig. 1. Finding whales for value. Photo: Public domain.

More so, I wonder how many are benefitting from, or are seeking, U.S. government funds for their intervention studies. If you believe the above Dreams web report, there may be over 160 enviro organizations that seem to agree with “the letter.” I have yet to see any enviro organization give the real money that our industry does to protect and mitigate exploration activity impacts on marine life. 

For example, 20 seismic ships operating at $350,000/day, not using the air guns for 30% of their 24-hr days (below industry average), equals $2.1 million/day spent to not interfere with, or harm, wildlife on those days. Over a production year of 150 days, say 50 days encountered mammals, that is a whopping $105 million/year to save marine mammals. 

Here is the real truth of the matter. I quote a senior acquisitions geophysicist with more boat time than all of the above: “We have best practices in effect to avoid impacting marine life. I don’t believe there is any significant threat to marine wildlife.  The creatures just move away, if they don’t like our sonic signatures. When we see dolphins (or other marine mammals) around, we always shut down field operations with ensuing downtime for the sea creatures to move on.” 

Always remember that you, and your efforts at finding oil or natural gas, have been good for the environment. Fact: If it were not for those kerosene hunters in Pennsylvania at the Drake well in 1859, the whales in our oceans would certainly have become extinct by now. Remember, once they were harvested for their blubber oil. 

Avoiding whales for value. Courtesy, Polarcus.
Fig. 2. Avoiding whales for value. Courtesy, Polarcus.

Fact: Note the difference from rugged early Arctic explorationists (whale hunters, Fig. 1) to the modern Arctic explorationist (seismic vessel, Fig. 2). We are an environmentally favorable, conservationist industry.  Fact: Oil and natural gas, along with coal, saved the forests as an energy source. Heat, today, does not need to come from a cow chip or a logging operation. Trees can be saved for important things, such as art and furniture, or better yet, shade. 

What’s new (from old). If you look at exploration today, it includes exploitation and reservoir delineation. Fact: The surge in EOR (or IOR) means a huge effort at brownfield recovery. Use the old field, same pipes, same wells in many cases, and recover more resource into existing markets. That’s a win-win for the environment. Strides at brownfield research can be found at AAPG, SPE, SEG, SPWLA, and at RPSEA.  

Fact: Enviro tech is big business, and our industry is a major buyer. You may have noticed that most professional environmental publications, the peer-reviewed ones, are geared to environmental audiences, who share common beliefs. Fact: None of those publications is directed at solutions for our industry. We actually implement improvements to environmental processes. Big progress has been made that significantly improves environmental outcomes for oil and gas. Not every new college student should seek anti-oil-and-gas environmental degrees, when ALL proper industry efforts include environmental protection. 

Un-polarizing today’s workplace. I suggest a new management contract with workers. Shareholders agree to keep (more) people, if the workers agree to improve tasks that reduce risk, and improve the process toward a better, safer bottom line-daily. It is amazing how many well-educated folks in this industry do not understand why they are at work, and what is the common goal of their organization. 

At the Subsea Tieback Forum & Exhibition in March, I heard a Shell engineer describe how his firm is working to make that message clearer by expecting each subsea engineer to have some knowledge in nine categories, be a master of two, and a subject matter expert in at least one. It will be very difficult to achieve that goal. wo-box_blue.gif  

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
Contributing Editor
William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in U.S. and international exploration.
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