Submitting Grievances and Whistleblowing as a Foreign Worker – Part One
By administrative-injustice-legal-blame’ model I mean ‘investigations’ focusing on finding ‘unreasonable’ actions influenced by the negligence Bolam definition of failing and which results in un-remediated ‘injustice’. This whole model is inherited from negligence claims and is very different and often totally contrary to the goal of finding out why harm was caused and how to prevent it.
It is worth mentioning that compromise agreements, at whatever level, are used widely in the NHS, the private sector and other parts of the public sector. That does not necessarily mean that someone has been stopped from speaking about patient safety, and to connect the two all the time is erroneous and wrong.
Question: Can a UK employer legally simultaneously apply to continue sponsoring a foreign worker on a Tier 2 SOL Visa (15 July 2013) as well as initiate disciplinary actions based onpoor performance (13 June 2013)?
As a US citizen, I was sponsored for employment by a company in England whose parent company is based in Norway. The initial three-year sponsorship was ending, and I was applying for a leave to remain – or to renew my and my dependent family member visas. The company in England was in the process of renewing their sponsorship of my Tier 2 visa. The application process based on Shortage Occupation List (SOL) was not trivial nor inexpensive and required the intentional and directed involvement of company agents. The company had even engaged a legal firm specializing in Tier 2 visa sponsorship to review the documentation submitted to the UK Border Agency to facilitate a successful application process so that I could legally work in the UK. The process additionally included processing applications for my dependent wife and school aged children. Of course, as one can imagine, as a foreign worker especially, the visa application renewal process was a principal concern and interest of mine.
Unfortunately, there had been issues in the workplace for several months. These issues came to a head about a month before (13 June 2013) my leave to remain application processing and continued Tier 2 sponsorship had been approved. I had been invited to a distressing meeting on very short notice by the human resources (HR) manager, my first line supervisor, and his boss. Following this watershed event in my working life, I sent an e-mail and requested an explanation as to what had just happened from the HR Manager? I was denied all of my requests made within my e-mail to the HR Manager. Many troubling assertions were made during this meeting, and I wanted to address them head-on. Most notable of my requests was whether the meeting was compliant to the company’s policy and procedures. Given the tone and topic of the meeting, it seemed unconscionable to me that minutes were being withheld. I knew at this point that something wrong was happening to me, but I was powerless because my legal right of redress was being perverted and obstructed. I was near positive that policy and procedures and my rights under contract of employment were being breached.
What if the meeting was not compliant to the company’s policy and procedures? What was the legality of being denied constructive, correct and thorough answers to workplace questions in a timely and professional manner? Would I have been submitting a workplace grievance or blowing the whistle? At the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. I have a better idea now, years too late, through reading about topics of workplace bullying, harassment and abuse. What I had just experienced is referred to in bullying literature as an ambush meeting, a tactic often (always!) used by workplace bullies against their targets. The HR manager was intentionally obfuscating the event which he likely knew very well was neither compliant nor legal under law and employment contract. The HR manager was now misdirecting the event to become a disciplinary action rather than a grievance. But, I was a foreign worker being sponsored under Tier 2 SOL visa provisions. The employer had made legal claims regarding my competence and abilities to the UK Border Agency that allowed me to work in the UK and displace a local worker. Simply, it did not make sense that a “poor performer” could be legally employed on a Tier 2 visa. Could they? BUT, poor performance is a legitimate reason to terminate an normalresident employee in the UK. This is what the HR manager knew very well!
There are things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.
In my work with the defendants, I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.
Captain G. M. Gilbert, the Army psychologist , Nuremberg trails (1945-1949)
Can a UK employer legally simultaneously apply to continue sponsoring a foreign worker on a Tier 2 SOL Visa (15 July 2013) as well as initiate disciplinary actions based on poor performance (13 June 2013)? I had never been provided with information by the HR manager or company directors which definitively addressed these important issues constructively. I never received confirmation that company policy and procedures, as well as UK labor standards were being followed. Mind you, the bullies through HR were essentially threatening my professional reputation and livelihood during the meeting. Yet, in spite of the seriousness of the matter, I was being intentionally denied information and documentation to act on. I saw this all as unfair, unreasonable, and unprofessional. I still do. The company had challenged me to a duel, but was not allowing me to defend myself. It clearly was a violation of the company’s published Core Values and Code of Conduct. Further to this, I was a foreigner in a foreign land being treated this way, which made it all even more distressing.
These presented e-mails showed that there was a conspiracy to withhold actionable information from an employee. (This information was discovered through a Data Protection Act 1998 subject access request.) The employee had essentially been forced to leave their employment because of misrepresentations (lies) and withholding of actionable information, such as the ambush meeting minutes. Isn’t this fraud? In lieu of the minutes to the 13 June 2013 ambush meeting, a letter was written that captured many of the (unsubstantiated) claims which were made during the meeting. What was not immediately apparent at the time was that the letter had transcended the ambush meeting participants. The letter was written and signed by the manager of HR on behalf of the UK company. The UK company was directed by Norwegian parent company executives, including the CEO/President and the CFO/EVP (executive vice-president). A lawyer who worked for the UK company served as secretary. So, this lawyer essentially wrote the letter signed by the HR Manager (24 July 2013). Therefore, if there was a breach in policy, procedure, or employment and contract law, it was not only understood and approved by these company directors and secretary, but was part of a nefarious (criminal?) conspiracy. In other words, any non-compliance or breach in policy or law would have been carried out intentionally and with comprehension of any legal violations or ramifications. This would include any duplicitous information provided to UK Border Agency to affect the Tier 2 SOL visa.
As a foreign worker, the mistreatment was very distressing. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the concept of workplace bullying, mobbing, and the tactic of the ambush meeting. At the same time, I had been an employee most of my life and had a conceptual understanding of fair and legal employment practices. Prior to my work in the marine seismic survey industry, I had been employed with various entities under or contracted by the US Department of Defense (DoD). During that time I had completed management training which covered US employment laws and best practices. Work attached to the US Federal government is especially sensitive to issues that would place the US government, as an employer or contractor, in legal jeopardy. I also understood the importance of proper and justified documentation. Even though US employment is known to be at will, it did not mean that employee rights could completely be trampled on. However, in the UK my employment was bound by an employment contract which is supposed to provide more worker protections and avenues of redress. I can honestly say that I did not completely understand the performance improvement plan, except that I reasoned that it could not be put into effect unless it was backed thoroughly by documented evidence. I was confident that no such evidence or justification existed. I had never experienced HR being so involved in the evaluation of my work performance. I did not even work with the HR department and the HR Manager had no direct knowledge of my work. I remained committed to follow through on my initial instinct and challenge and respond to the propriety and merits of the Investigation into possible implementation of a performance improvement plan (PIP) with a grievance.
At this point, it’s really important that you don’t get caught up in shaming or blaming. Just answer the question and give your spouse or partner room to do to the same. You are simply noticing what aligns with your values and what doesn’t.
Your relationship with your line manager may give a clue as to the real reason for the PIP. The importance of workplace relationships should not be underestimated; it is frequently the case that contention in the workplace is down to a personality clash. Many individuals who are put on a PIP can cite an underlying motive which has nothing to do with the standard of their work and more a breakdown of personalities.
When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs.
According to research by psychologist Jennifer Freyd, PhD, when wrong-doers are confronted with their acts (which may be criminal), they show a pattern that can be abbreviated as DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. Victims of wrong-doers have a need for the truth to be revealed and for justice. But, the proclivity of the toxic and narcissistic organization is to suppress such truth, protect the wrong-doers and evade responsibility by denying the truth and attacking the victim. Therefore, rather than a victim making specific public allegations that will invoke such focused attacks and reprisals, it is perhaps safer and more productive to illuminate patterns of behavior, grounded in research, that will enlighten and protect potential future victims of institutional betrayal, while giving credence to current victims’ narratives. In institutional betrayal, power and prestige within the institution is preserved through protecting the wrong-doer over the victim. Victims place their trust in institutions based on expectations that the institution is worthy of their trust. Stakeholders in the institution trust that the published institution core values, policy, and procedures are in place to protect their own, as well as other institutional stakeholder’s, vested interests. After all, the main objective of publishing such information within business proposals and annual reports is to inculcate such feelings of trust in the values of the institution and its leadership. When institutions do not respond in accordance to their espoused values, they betray this trust and in such cases, this betrayal of trust can be more traumatizing to the victims than the initial perpetrated wrong-doing, according to Betrayal Trauma Theory (BTT).
Mobbing is the nonsexual harassment of a coworker by a group of other workers or members of an organization of the one who is targeted. The term psychological terrorism is also used to describe workplace mobbing. Mobbing is not a conflict over facts and reasons. Mobbing is a form of genocide where the objective is to eliminate the target that poses a threat to the power structure, influence, and reputation of the institution, and more precisely, its leadership. Workplace mobbing tactics often are used against whistleblowers – workers who report concerns about illegal or unethical behavior in the workplace. Mobbing requires the support of top management. Mobbing cannot be sustained without the permission and/or direction from top-management. The damage done to a person through workplace mobbing is an injury, not an illness. Fundamentally, it is a workplace health and safety issue. Therefore, there is always an effort by top-management to skirt responsibility and accountability for their intentional or negligent injurious actions. The objective is to make the workplace so miserable for the target that they will leave voluntarily without a fight. Workplace mobbing and bullying results in a number of health injuries and consequences for both the target, as well as his/her family. The fabric of relationships within the organization is damaged and the victim of mobbing has suffered an injury that can be life threatening. Victims of mobbing are documented to become ill and die prematurely or commit suicide. Mobbing is violent health-harming abuse perpetrated through the abuse of authoritative power and a profound breach of trust.
Gaslighting is an insidiously cruel form of sociopathic narcissistic psychological manipulation and abuse often practiced to gain power and control over a target. The objective of the gaslighting is to cause the target to lose their sense of identity and perception of what’s really happening around them. The term originates from the 1938 stage play, Gaslight. In the play, a husband dims the gas lights while he searches for jewels that he believes were hidden in the attic by his wife’s aunt, who was murdered in the apartment which his wife inherited. The wife notices the dimming gas light, as well as other strange goings-on. The husband tries to persuade her that she is imagining the light change, and other things. The objective is to replace the truth with a lie. The term gaslighting is now used colloquially to describe efforts to manipulate someone’s perception of reality. Gaslighter’s will use persistent lying, denial, misdirection and contradiction to destabilize the victim’s beliefs and make them doubt their perceptions of events. In the workplace, for instance, an individual who reports or discloses being harassed and bullied, or other workplace behaviors that may contradict their understanding of policy, or even the law, may become targets of gaslighting. Gaslighter’s may try to make the victim believe that no wrong-doing has occurred and that they are just coping badly with “work performance” or other unrelated issues. Gaslighting and workplace mobbing, or gang-bullying, can be applied together in a collective effort to force the target out of their job in retaliation for disclosing and revealing such wrong doing. Mobbing and gaslighting are tactics used to force whistleblowers out of the workplace.
DARVO also exists on an organizational level. When a company or organization is complicit with the accused who employs the same strategy, it’s “institutional DARVO,” and what Freyd calls a form of betrayal.
What is the difference between lying and fraud? At what point does telling lies go from being a poor decision to a violation of the law? Fraud is an intentional false representation intended to mislead the receiver to their detriment. Courts will often look at what the liar(s) gain if the lie is believed and what harm is caused to the person who relied on truthful information. If the victim believed the lie and acted as if it were true and suffered some sort of injury because of the betrayal in trust, there could be liability for fraud. Denying or ignoring the truthful narrative of a victim is a lie and a betrayal, and a particularly pernicious form of denial is DARVO. Organizations, like people, have an incentive to protect their ideal image. Organizations have attributes and personalities formed by the decisions and actions of directors and top-management. It is these decisions and actions which form the institution or corporate character. This is not to be confused with the published corporate values, mission statements, and annual reports, which are created to form an ideal perception of the corporate character. Narcissism describes a self-absorbed person. Narcissists are prone to frequent lies and exaggerations and enjoy getting away with violating rules and social norms. Narcissists project a false idealized image of themselves and use or control others as an extension of themselves. The narcissistic organization becomes similarly self-absorbed in protecting an ideal identity above dealing with contrasting reality. When agents of organizations gang-bully and gaslight targets in the workplace, it above all involves a conspiratorial myriad of intentional false representations intended to mislead and change the targets perception of true events to their detriment.
Participants in the atrocities and genocide carried out by Nazi Germany justified their actions on following the orders of superiors, or obedience to authority. Could it be that the millions of accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? In 1961, US Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram, began his famous experiments into analyzing obedience to authority. The Milgram Experiment wanted to determine if ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up. People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and/or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school, and workplace. The experiment concluded that ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Ordinary kind and humane people can easily become sadistic under certain conditions. When someone in a position of leadership makes it clear that certain individuals are undesirable, these targets may be mistreated, shunned, and even falsely accused of misconduct and crimes. If people believe that they will not be held accountable for their actions, and the more they see others acting aggressively without sanction, the more likely they will behave aggressively. However, if people were reminded that they had responsibility for their own actions, almost none of them were prepared to obey.
It is important to remember that the heinous genocide and elimination of those deemed socially undesirable during of the Holocaust was not only legal, but also a principal objective of the authoritative Nazi regime in power. There was, and would have been, reprisal and punishment to those citizens who thwarted those objectives. Nevertheless, many charged in carrying out these objectives were punished, and even executed, following the Allied trials that followed the conclusion of the Allied victory of World War 2. In the Milgram experiment, teacher subjects were allowed to dispense punishment to “learners” under the direction and authority of the Yale University researcher. Yale University’s reputation provided additional allegiance and obedience to follow these instructions. Further, the teachers were not enfranchised in the Yale University organization. They were not fellow researchers with an understanding of the experiment or knowledge of human psychology. Mobbing and gaslighting behavior may be authorized by leaders – those holding authoritative decision-making power – of organizations, but those who follow the sole instruction of authority are also agents who have pronounced their commitment to uphold laws, organization policy, and organization values.
We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Retaliation against whistleblowers is common and severe and includes negative job performance evaluations, micromanagement, isolation, loss of job, and blacklisting.
Gang-bullies and gaslighter’s breach all of these commitments and provide their allegiance to corrupt wrong-doers with authoritative power. Categorically, this not “professional” behavior. Beyond this, the law and organization policy most certainly advocate the intervention by professionals to not follow lawless, arbitrary and capricious authority that can seriously endanger the health and well-being of a coworker. For any policy not to state this would be malpractice. (This was not the case in Nazi Germany.) Joining the mob and protecting corrupt leadership may enable employees to secure benefit and promotions for helping management eliminate a “difficult” employee – the whistleblower – or the target of discriminatory or abusive treatment. Isn’t this bribery for the purpose of perverting the course of justice? Anyone who threatens the narcissistic delusion of the organization has put themselves in jeopardy. In a safe and functional organization, disclosures are handled according to both the law and policy. Whistleblowing tends to refer to disclosures which are not handled appropriately and result in acts of retaliation and reprisal against those who make protected disclosures. So, why is providing protected disclosure – or whistleblowing – about organization wrong-doing so dangerous and damaging for professionals who do so, when just the opposite should be true?
When what should happen is quite the opposite to what the employee who discloses wrong-doing is experiencing, cognitive dissonance is created. There is a betrayal of trust which undermines one’s sense of reality and confidence. Most whistleblowers disclose with the belief that the organization leadership will be just as troubled by the reported behavior as they are. The whistleblower has been promised by the organization that disclosures will be handled fairly and effectively. It is a legal and fiduciary promise made by leadership. When the whistleblower begins to see the published proclamations as false assurances and is at the receiving end of unabashed reprisals, this distresses the whistleblower immensely. Many whistleblowers experience long-term Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Disclosing organization wrong-doing often implicates higher level executives, directly or indirectly. DARVO occurs when the perpetrator, which could be an organization, literally accuses the victim of doing something specific that they did. For instance, if you accuse perpetrators of defamation for evaluating your performance arbitrarily and not in accordance to the organization performance management system, as is common for workplace bullies and the mob, the perpetrator will deny the bullying and claim your accusations are defamatory. The organization will protect the improperly empowered wrong-doers. There will be no fair investigation or resolution, in contradiction to the written policy. The victim of harassment/bullying by the mob will likely be terminated and blacklisted, all the while the narcissistic organization will preserve the myth of being guided by high values and fairness. This is an orchestrated deception.
Betrayal is very threatening to our survival as humans. When former colleagues and professionals assist in the elimination of the betrayed target, it comes as a shock. It is very painful and confusing to the target who cannot understand what’s going on? The betrayed target is likely to be enraged at the trusted institution and fellow employees who have breached their trust and demonstrated cowardice and lack of moral fortitude. Once former colleagues align themselves with the immoral mob, there can be no redemption. An initial moment of guilt may occur with the initial small betrayal. This is followed by anger at the target because being angry with the corrupted power structure and calling them out is too risky. The anger is fueled by fear and guilt that they have become accomplices in evil and compromised their own principles by betraying the target. Following the initial betrayal, the subsequent lies and betrayals increase in intensity. The problem is that eventually the betrayals will be discovered. The mob must create justifications for their decisions that support the false narrative of events aligned with the corrupt power structure that oversaw the gaslighting and manipulation in the workplace which was orchestrated to eliminate the target. The mob would like to frame the targets reaction as unhinged, when it is entirely normal for a betrayed person or victim to act as a betrayed person or victim. The participants within the mob must collectively maintain the mythological institution identity or face internal or external legal reprisals and accountability. They do this knowingly to protect a hypocritical and corrupted power structure and false institution identity at the expense of the victim.
Every life is a test but, in the workplace, few are tested more than whistleblowers. The act of whistleblowing is a comprehensive test of the whistleblower’s values, loyalties, and above all their self-worth. The whistleblower who survives, survives these tests.
Mistreatment of workers in the workplace has
always existed. At the same time, more
recently a growing attention has been given to issues such as workplace
harassment, bullying, and mobbing. In
1976, Carroll M. Brodsky, a psychologist and anthropologist, opened the
discussion of workplace abuse with his book The Harassed Worker
looking at the outcomes and accidents from worker stress and exhaustion. In the mid-1980s research by psychologist and
pedagogist Heinz Leymann began further investigating workplace stress and
introduced our modern concept of workplace bullying and mobbing. Workplace bullying and mobbing are identified
as principal workplace health and safety hazards. Workplace environments where mobbing and bullying
occur have been antecedent to both the Piper Alpha (1988) and the Deepwater
Horizon (2010) offshore oil rig disasters.
The Piper Alpha disaster cost the lives of 167 offshore workers and was
the deadliest offshore disaster. The
Deepwater Horizon is the largest offshore environmental disaster and it also
cost the lives of eleven (11) offshore workers.
Workplaces environments where there are feelings of economic uncertainty
from downsizing and restructuring leave fewer people to do more work and
also make the competition for positions intense seem to fuel harassment,
bullying and mobbing cultures. While the
cyclic oil and gas industry that employs geo-services professionals is not
unique in terms of harvesting workplace conditions conducive to workplace
harassment, bullying and mobbing, but is especially susceptible during down
cycles which exacerbate uncertainty.
Much of the research work by
Freyd focuses on sexual offenders and identifies a form of institutional betrayal, which is a negative reaction when an assault is
reported. This negative response by the
organization adds additional trauma to the victim beyond the interpersonal
violation. The comment that is often heard,
“The rape was bad, but what was even worse was how I was treated after the rape
DARVO occurs when DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional
complicity). Institutional DARVO is when
an institution minimizes – sometimes to the point of ignoring – the harms done
to the victim(s) and frames the alleged perpetrations in such a way to blame
the victim and protect the perpetrators.
An example of institutional DARVO would include to institutional leaders
responding to disclosures by gaslighting victims into thinking they do not have
a sufficient understanding of policy and practice and that there was no
non-compliant or illegal behavior. In
the case of bullying and mobbing, the ruse of “poor performance” is often used
as a justification for mistreatment.
Institutions may also obstruct the victims redress through outright
lying about policy and legal obligations of the institution. Institution betrayal really boils down to
leadership corrupting the processes of redress in order to avoid culpability. The institution does not follow their own
rules and decisions are made with arbitrary caprice.
Milgram demonstrated the power of authority over the minds and wills of ordinary people. Milgram’s experiment was conducted following the trial of Otto Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann was executed in 1962. The trial was followed closely by the media and was the inspiration for several books. One of the more famous books was written by Hannah Arendt. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann. Banal evil is characterized by a belief that what one is doing is not evil, rather, what they are engaging in is a behavior that is, or has been, normalized by the society in which they reside. The horrors of the Holocaust, to which Eichmann assisted through overseeing the deportation of many of the Jewish population to the Auschwitz concentration camp, resulted in the murder of about 75 percent upon arrival. Eichmann was loyally following the laws and carrying out the evil objectives of the Nazi regime. Institutional betrayal and acts of psychological violence in the workplace, such as harassment, mobbing and bullying is different. Those who follow the evil dictates of authority are usually acting against the policy and laws. Such “professionals” are actively and willingly complicit in the destruction of the victim’s professional life and reputation, as well as the family and loved one’s who depend on their betrayed victims. These acts are evil. Such behavior is only normalized through the indifference of legal authorities to pursue such evil institution leadership and mob participants. Scientific research has determined proclivities and patterns followed by abusers and criminals. Now, institutional governance bodies and law enforcement must actively embrace the research and the body of knowledge it provides to aid victims. For institutional governance and law enforcement not to do so is a further betrayal to victims and a miscarriage of justice. Being a victim or doing the right thing should not be dangerous.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.
Consecrated persons, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, let themselves be dominated by their human frailty or sickness and thus become tools of Satan.
… we argue that organizations can adopt
collective narcissistic identities that will produce wrong (i.e., non-virtuous)
behavior. This happens because the organization’s narcissistic
identity—including the corresponding motive to protect its identity—is more
powerful than a motive to behave morally
organizations want to appear ethical because appearing ethical feeds their narcissism,
and so the costs of creating formal ethics programs are small compared to the
ego-defense benefits. But such programs are instrumental for the narcissistic
identity, not ethical conduct, and therefore will not much affect the
behavioral status quo. ~ Organizational Narcissism and Virtuous Behavior
Bribery is the act of giving or receiving something of value in exchange for some kind of influence or action in return, that the recipient would otherwise not offer. Bribery is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legalduty. Essentially, bribery is offering to do something for someone for the expressed purpose of receiving something in exchange. – Wikipedia
is unethical for a lawyer to threaten to present criminal,
administrative or disciplinary charges to obtain advantage in a
civil dispute. Blackmail consists
of threats made to gain anything of value from the other person, such as money,
property or sexual favors. Extortion constitutes
a threat to accuse someone of a crime, or to expose or impute to him/her
any significant misconduct, accompanied by a demand for payment “or else.”
History is so important. It has been said that the three most important words in the English language are “remember, remember, remember.”
Chances multiply when you take them.
Since May 2015, MarineSeismicSurvey (MSS) blog articles have
mostly focused on the marine seismic streamer market as a gauge of the health
and trend of offshore geophysical exploration.
However, marine seismic streamer activity can no longer be considered
singularly in such analysis. The growing
ocean bottom seismic (OBS) market, being forged by ocean bottom node (OBN)
technologies, must be taken into account moving forward. The percentage
share of OBS in the marine seismic survey market has been increasing over the
past decade, and some analysts are predicting that OBS will command a 30%
marine seismic survey market share by 2020 with its continued rise. This is remarkable for several reasons. The plunge in oil prices in mid-2014
significantly impacted marine geophysical exploration. However, marine geophysical exploration has
historically been a boom or bust business defined through a litany of
bankruptcies, mergers, and acquisitions.
Oil prices have always been cyclic.
Therefore, the trend and buoyancy of the marine geophysical exploration
survey industry remains a good indicator for the overall trends and health of
the offshore oil and gas industry.
Marine seismic surveys, in
simple terms, map the subsurface points between a source and receiver(s). For some time, the most time-efficient and
cost-effective way to map these points is through narrow azimuth (NAZ) streamer
acquisition. Standard NAZ marine seismic
acquisition is where source(s) and streamers are towed together behind a single
vessel. It is principally the cost of
the seismic vessel and seismic in-sea equipment that determines the price of a
survey. Surveys are priced on a day
rate, square kilometer rate, or the number of these “mid-points”, or common
depth points (CDPs) mapped. Because each
source, almost always an air gun blast or “shot”, maps to the number of
receiver sensors located on the streamer cables, there has been an incentive to
tow as many streamers as possible to reduce time and costs of marine seismic surveys. To facilitate this, newer marine seismic
streamer vessels have steadily become larger and more powerful. They are also more expensive to equip and operate. OBS acquisition has been slower and more
expensive method. However, OBS is seen
to provide better data quality. There have
been notable technology innovations introduced into the marine seismic streamer
market during the past decade to improve data quality. Similarly, more powerful computing power has
improved final data quality and imaging of marine seismic streamer acquisition.
The marine seismic streamer market has always been
tenuous and competitive. In late 2013,
CGG acquired Fugro GeoScience’s marine seismic streamer fleet. Fugro exited the marine seismic streamer
market before the mid-2014 plunge in oil prices. However, they retained their OBS capability
as a joint venture with CGG which is Seabed GeoSolutions. OBS data was regarded as “better” because it
was derived from multi-component (2-4) sensors, whereas seismic streamer data
sensors were single component. One of the
problems with marine seismic streamer data was the loss of recorded bandwidth
which correlates to depth that sources and streamers are towed. This loss of bandwidth is known as a “ghost
notch” caused from upcoming energy cancelling down-coming energy from the water
surface. In 2007, a dual-sensor towed
streamer was introduced into the market that could rival OBS data quality. In 2009, the first dual-sensor 3D survey was
carried out, ushering in an industry wide embrace of “broadband” seismic
streamer data. Another way to acquire
broadband seismic data from single-sensor streamers is through varying the
depth of the streamers and then applying sophisticated data processing algorithms. In 2013, a 4-component streamer was
introduced into the market. As vessels got larger and towed larger spreads,
there also became a need for improved streamer control equipment.
Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
We are witnessing a seismic change in consumer behavior. That change is being brought about by technology and the access people have to information.
While there have been remarkable innovations and advances in
marine seismic streamer acquisition technologies and techniques, advances have also
been made in OBS that are together transforming marine geophysical business
model paradigms. In a competitive
market, innovation is essential.
However, conservative concession operators have shown a reluctance to
pay any premium for such innovations. Within
the MSS blog article, Toward
a New Horizon in the Marine Seismic Streamer Industry (24-January-2018),
we reminisced about Schlumberger’s seismic acquisition entity, WesternGeco
(WG)’s, history and their contributions to the marine seismic industry. Schlumberger’s CEO, Paal Kibsgaard, announced
that the company would exit the marine and land acquisition businesses in
January 2018. The reason essentially
boiled down to the return on investment developing and deploying innovative
technologies. The MSS blog article, Upstream
Exploration and the Paradox of Choice (5-June-2015), describes
how the operator competitive bidding process discourages more expensive
innovative proprietary technologies until they are commoditized and offered by
a variety of service company providers. An
example of this is in the variety of solutions offered for marine broadband
streamer acquisition. Broadband is
commoditized, the specific techniques and equipment used are distinct and vary
in equipment and operational costs.
On 15 November 2018, it was announced that relative
newcomer, Shearwater GeoServices (Shearwater), had completed the acquisition of
the marine seismic acquisition and operations of WG. Shearwater’s portfolio now includes marine
seismic streamer, as well as ocean bottom seismic (OBS) exploration
services. On 27 December 2018, seismic
streamer player, Polarcus, announced their winning a combined towed streamer
and ocean bottom node (OBN) contract that they will perform cooperatively with
SAE Exploration. Earlier, 7 December 2018, ocean bottom node
player, Magseis, acquired Fairfield’s Seismic Technologies data acquisition
business to become Magseis Fairfield.
These moves in late 2018 have redefined the marine seismic industry. Both Magseis and Shearwater are both relative
newcomers to their respective principal markets. Through their acquiring additional marine
data acquisition resources, they are now both dominant players. Shearwater added seven (7) marine seismic
streamer vessels to their fleet, as well as three (3) multipurpose source and
OBS vessels. MagSeisFairfield will also
have a dominant position in the OBS/OBN market.
Schlumberger made a decision to exit the data acquisition
game. It has been my position since my
first blog post article, The
Seismic Vessel Over-Capacity Problem (5-May-2015) that the marine
seismic streamer market provides a snapshot of the trends and health of
offshore development and overall oil and gas spending and growth. Both Schlumberger (of which WG was a part)
and Fairfield will continue to have a presence in providing seismic data
processing, imaging, and multi-client (MC) products and services. Both Schlumberger and Fairfield are
innovators of proprietary technologies in marine seismic acquisition and are
currently pursuing claims of patent infringement against their rivals. Schlumberger’s is challenging ION streamer
control technology. Fairfield’s recent
claim of patent infringement of their OBN acquisition technology by Seabed
GeoSolutions (SG) are current examples. Both
Shearwater and MagSeisFairfield will quite possibly be in sole possession of
cutting edge proprietary data acquisition technologies.
A century ago, petroleum – what we call oil – was just an obscure commodity; today it is almost as vital to human existence as water.
I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.
The plunge in oil prices in mid-2014 led most seismic
streamer acquisition vessel owners to reduce the number of operating vessels to
adapt to the reduced offshore exploration opportunities. In the near-term, this took a large fleet of
capable vessels and equipment off the market.
With reduced demand for oil exploration, seismic streamer vessel fleets
have been decimated. The marine seismic
acquisition equation has changed significantly.
Over-capacity in the marine seismic streamer vessel market exists when
the number of vessels (streamers) in the market is greater than the demand for
data acquisition surveys that will employ such vessels. In a robust demand market, larger fleets
could be deployed strategically to minimize costly uncompensated transit times
between surveys. Equipped streamer vessels
are expensive to maintain. The objective
is always to keep vessels working and reduce transit time. If the marine seismic vessel is on-site, but
idle – or on standby – for a variety of reasons, the goal of the vessel owner
is to be compensated for the idle time by the contractor. Of course, the operator/contractor also wants
to minimize their incurred expense when vessels are not acquiring data (which
meets the contractor data requirements) in the (contract) acquisition business
model. The marine seismic streamer fleet
had been steadily adding vessels capable of towing larger streamer spreads,
which also meant reduced survey times.
Larger spreads complete surveys in less time. In a market with reduced opportunities it is
even more difficult to keep fleets working steadily and profitably.
In spite of
all of these factors, reducing survey time and cost to operators, especially
during a time of reduced oil prices, survey cost is the principal
consideration. In times past, in areas
of robust exploration, multiple seismic vessels could be working in the same
area. This was problematic for high
quality seismic data acquisition. The
sources used by the different survey vessels would impact the seismic
data. Seismic interference, as it was
referred to, occurred when the source signal from another survey vessel
polluted the recorded records from the primary survey. Expensive time-sharing agreements would
compel seismic vessels to cease data acquisition while the other recorded to
reduce seismic source interference.
However, there are now seismic data processing techniques which can
separate out unwanted seismic signal, thus again reducing idle time and expense
once caused from seismic source interference.
In fact, such data processing has been refined enough to allow surveyors
to intentionally overlap source interference.
As mentioned earlier, the points being mapped are essentially the
midpoints between the seismic source and receivers. Adding sources in acquisition and overlapping
sources for deblending in data processing is now an offered solution which
again reduces survey time and cost, but increases potential vessel idle time.
Geophysical survey customers are cost conscious consumers
and are, for the most part, risk adverse and not aggressive using innovative
technologies that increase survey costs.
However, geophysical survey customers seem willing to try new
technologies and techniques that decrease survey costs. In such a competitive environment, customers
can often get the benefit of both new technology and techniques without a
premium cost. The incentive for vessel
owners is to keep the vessels as busy as possible to reduce loss from idle
time. All of these factors do not easily
explain the rise in OBS/OBN marine seismic market share so much as the
decimation of the marine seismic streamer fleet. Marine seismic streamer acquisition is still
the most time efficient marine seismic acquisition technique. In times past, offshore project
development required that oil prices be above $70 USD/bbl. This value is not firm, but any trading value
of over such an arbitrary threshold provides more opportunities for investment
in seismic surveys. Most frontier
exploration initiates with 2D (single streamer) marine seismic surveys. This data can then be used to evaluate the
area and plan subsequent 3D (multiple streamers) marine seismic surveys, which
in turn define targets for offshore drilling.
4D marine seismic streamer acquisition is used over existing reservoirs
to improve oil recovery. 4D programs are
intended to replicate the source and receiver positions of previous 3D surveys
and detect changes over time and determine optimal drilling locations.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
Predicting oil prices is anyone’s guess.
current market (with oil prices trading below the threshold value for
profitably), developing new fields is prohibitive. OBS/OBN acquisition can focus on developed or
trafficked areas where streamer acquisition is hindered by obstructions or
other hazards and risks that exists when towing a 1100 m x 8000 m (or larger)
streamer spread 5-15 m below the sea surface.
OBS/OBN exploration programs can be more focused on quality over
quantity of CDPs. In other words,
getting more oil and gas from already developed fields where there is existing
infrastructure in place is less risky than exploring in remote expansive areas. The improved data processing deblending
techniques provide the ability to acquire marine seismic data with multiple
overlapping sources. Add to this more
sophisticated interpolation algorithms means new acquisition source-streamer
configurations can be employed to reduce survey time and costs. Less in-sea equipment also has many
operational advantages. Towing wider
spreads with fewer streamers can save on fuel and reduce the number of streamer
control and positioning equipment to monitor and maintain. Of course, from a health and safety
perspective, reduced maintenance means less risk exposure by offshore workers.
OBN seismic data acquisition is becoming more efficient and less
costly to deploy and is now poised to challenge the high-end marine seismic
streamer market. OBS/OBN technology is
equipped with multicomponent sensors that can collect full azimuth seismic
data. The step change advances in OBN
include longer battery life in nodes and faster automated deployment. Much the higher cost of OBS/OBN is attributed
to time efficiency, where as much of the expense for marine seismic is the large
and powerful streamer vessels themselves.
OBN technology can acquire 4D seismic data, as well. OBN surveys will take market share away from
high-end marine seismic streamer surveys, especially as oil prices remain below
the offshore development threshold price.
In this cost sensitive environment, cost effective 3D exploration
employing a combination of three (3) or more sources and seismic deblending data
processing techniques will be attractive for frontier exploration. Marine seismic streamer and OBN will battle
for acquiring data to reach untapped regions of existing developed fields. This is what I believe will shape the marine geophysical
data acquisition market. As has always
been the case, oil prices will continue to control marine seismic market. Also, as has always been the case, innovation
that best solves the problems of customers will win the day. The plunge in oil prices in mid-2014 significantly
impacted marine geophysical exploration.
Marine seismic will remain a boom or bust business defined by bankruptcies,
mergers, and acquisitions until there is a paradigm shift in how innovation is
embraced by marine seismic survey customers.
Keeping customers is about the experience, and the employees control the culture and temperature of the business. Never forget that.
At its heart, engineering is about using science to find creative, practical solutions. It is a noble profession.