Full into the Storm: Where is Marine Seismic Heading? (28 July 2015)

Content Revised 14 November 2013 by Request of Company to Remove their Named Reference



Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future. – Nils Bohr

One marine seismic acquisition company posted Q2 2015 numbers on 23 July along with their prognosis of the marine seismic sector market.  Vessel utilization and contract revenues and margins were negatively impacted along with more idle time than expected.  This player foresees low oil company spending and an uncertain marine seismic market well into 2016.  In response to this, the company will be cold stacking their two oldest special designed vessels in Q3 2015, and have entered into a lease back agreement for a 10-streamer vessel.  However, this will only temporarily relax the continuing over-capacity dilemma that marine seismic acquisition companies are facing.  The company is scheduled to receive their third ultra high-capacity vessel in Q1 2016, followed by another in Q3 2016.  Primarily 3D marine seismic streamer companies, Dolphin Geophysical and Polarcus, are scheduled to present their Q2 2015 number in August.  This will be a challenging time for a player who will again be introducing new capacity into an over-capacity market.  Even if exploration picks-up significantly toward the end of 2016, many other contractors have stacked capacity that could relatively easily re-enter the market.

Dolphin Geophysical towed a 1,850 meter wide spread claiming a record.  Competitor CGG immediately challenged the record boasting their own record of 13.44 square kilometer spread.  While both impressive to those in marine seismic operations, the reality that has to hit home is that vessels have the ability to tow wider spreads than ever before, completing surveys more  quickly, and therefore putting additional pressure on vessels to find even more paying projects.

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”– Epicetus

Most all agree it is a challenging time in the marine seismic streamer acquisition field, as well as in the wider O & G business environment.  The collective of corporate wisdom shows that the companies which fare best during such times of challenge are those that possess a strong sense of self and purpose.  The companies that will navigate this current perfect storm and rise are those with strong core values which will transfer into high trust business relationships.  Without these strong values so crucial to driving the necessary high levels of performance, companies will suffer.  Growing social capital created through an environment of trust, knowledge sharing, and shared norms is key to building such resilient teams and businesses, according to entrepreneur, consultant and speaker Margaret Heffernan and other thought leaders.  From a systems thinking perspective, such an environment provides a stable basis to form collaborative networks essential in informing and executing business strategy decisions effectively and efficiently.

The crucial imperatives of health, safety and the environment cannot be ignored.  Operational optimization and process improvement of performance and efficiency will need to continue, but be monitored even more carefully during times of change in the resource and process dynamic.  It is during such times of change when accidents and all other risks increase.  The same key communication networks that optimize the processes that bring growth have to be maintained.

But, with an uncertain future, oil and gas prices and operator priorities are still dominating the horizon with an already over-capacity of seismic vessels, the marine seismic sector is being impacted from support vessels and services through to imaging.  The once bright spot of troubled economies and job creation, the oil and gas energy sector, is no longer the bright spot that it had been.

We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. – Lee Iacocca

Job loss from restructuring and adapting to the new oil and gas sector reality is now settling in. The industry “experience gap” is exacerbated by the fact that many organizations do not do the best job of retaining and cataloging knowledge.  Organization knowledge residing in the heads of staff is less tangible and reliable than accessible well written and detailed project reporting and event chronicling.  And now, many knowledge repositories are leaving; through reductions, retirements, or interests outside of O & G.  Now with data storage not being expensive, data organization is required.  This should be a top priority of any organization determined to weather this current storm and rise out of it.  With other sectors of the economy recovering, it is a good time to remind employers that O & G workers have been on the leading edge of technology as well as health and safety.  It is a good time to add technically savvy and safe people to cross pollinate and add knowledge and expertise into a number of enterprises.  Through focus and cooperation around the board the marine seismic sector will pass through this current storm and arrive more efficient and effective at exploring for the energy that every sector requires to grow, human as well as petroleum.