A little bit of snow on the roads didn't deter 470 participants from stampeding down to the Calgary Convention Centre for the Seismic Acquisition Fall Forum, dubbed Before the First Shot. Industry representatives, contractors, government agencies and consultants came to network, brainstorm and share ideas. Sponsored by the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors, this forum was held November 9 and 10, 1998. While some speakers claimed to be neophytes when it came to public speaking, their presentations received kudos from all those who came.

The first session provided an overview of the seismic acquisition business. After Perry Kotkas of Arcis Geophysical Corporation gave a warm reception, the keynote speech was presented by Dr. Easton Wren, a distinguished lecturer and former television media personality. He set the forum's tone with the overwhelming challenges the industry faces for survival into the next millenium. "Drilling without seismic is brain surgery without scanning," said Wren.

Wren recalled historic events within the Alberta oil patch in his eloquent talk, accompanied by vivid descriptions and sensational images. Consider seismic operations of 1926 when operators wore ties and waistcoats, and carted around 1300 pounds of explosives to shoot one hole. During the 1940's, horseback carried geophones contained in big kerosene jars.

Today, synergism is the key, said Wren, "We must start with the understanding of geology first, then understand the acquisition field operation as the modeling and geophysical parameters are based on the geology. Acquisition design goes into the processing world which makes interpretative for the rest of the world. "

In his discussion on an overview of seismic operations, Dave Siegfried of Western Geophysical created awareness on the types of equipment and services required during different seismic operations, "Many years ago, when you hired a seismic crew, the decision was easy. You either hired a wheel dynamite or vibroseis crew or your hired a tracked dynamite or vibroseis crew. Today, however, in response to many cultural, environmental and physical reasons, a wide variety of seismic crew operating templates exist."

Siegfried's presentation covered 2D and 3D mapping concerns, government approvals, permitting and releasing of landowners, line preparation, survey, drilling, recording, line clean up, final plans, and letter of clearance. After everyone was thoroughly informed of the details essential to conduct successful seismic operations, he concluded that, "the goal of a seismic operation is to acquire quality seismic data in a safe and productive manner, leaving the smallest footprint on the land as possible. " Environmental and safety concerns were raised, along with garbage disposal and the need for pre-project planning.

Session Two examined seismic project initiation and was facilitated by Cathy Martin, an independent consultant and Mike Cardell of Schlumberger Geco-Prakla.

In his discussion on scouting, Bill Quirk from Aquila Exploration Consultants enlightened participants by adopting the attitude that industry can contribute to the public's perception in a positive manner: "You can control the destiny of your geophysical surveys. Your blueprint for your survey is to leave a desired case history. You need to pre-plan, scout and prepare." Scouting, he added is required prior to developing the plan of execution of a seismic survey. It's important for scouts and regulators to agree with methodology and energy source. "The use of professional scouting practices and the proper use of factual knowledge on applications, permitting processes, technical parameters and bid request can greatly to the image of the image," said Quirk.

A letter of agreement can set out expectations of the survey. Submission of completed applications is required to avoid delays. Scouts can help identify critical wildlife zones and native issues.

From a news clip, Quirk alerted everyone of the increasing conflict between our industry and landowners, interest groups and government. This public's attitude of "not in my back yard" can be reversed with logical planning and a proactive industry attitude.

Brock Hassell of Complete Land Services Ltd. discussed the value of permitting within the seismic acquisition process, "The permit agent is the means by which a landowner communicates with a seismic crew. When this communication is done poorly, it is inevitable that the integrity of the permit will be compromised."

A good permit agent has to be multitalented and live up numerous expectations, explained Hassell, "Positive first impressions are required. An agent needs to be personable and knowledgeable with selling the concept to the landowner. The permit agent has to be a good listener and be aware of past concerns and be a skilled negotiator. There's a need to try and give and take a little."

In hostile situations, the permit agent has to be thick-skinned. And a permit agent's job needs to conform to that of the landowner, which may require meeting a landowner at 1:00 am in the morning.

Hassell shared many anecdotes when dealing with landowners and the mitigating action that can be taken. While timing is important, Hassell says it is imperative that ongoing communication with landowners is essential, "It is very easy to assume, but that doesn't mean people are going to go along with that (assumption)."

Ron MacDonald from Seisland Surveys gave a thorough and informative presentation on landowner issues. With over 720 incidents this past year, landowner issues should not be taken lightly, as permission to enter onto a land for seismic data acquisition is mandatory. MacDonald discussed current concerns of landowners, renters, lessees, seismic crews, and organizations like the Alberta Surface Rights Federation, Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, and the Alberta Cattle commission. He also brought to everyone's attention the new geophysical operating guidelines and regulations in the white area and reviewed the contents of the new booklet from the Farmers' Advocate Office, entitled Seismic Operations and Farmers' Rights.

Some twenty issues were brought up the March 5 1997 meeting requested by the Alberta Surface Rights organization. These items ranged from cattle ingesting cap wire to cleanup to enforcement and compliance. With an appeal procedure next to none, the penalty for the first offence is $12,000, second offence, $25,000.

Survey Considerations was the theme of the third session, which was moderated by Bruce Stewart from Petro-Canada and Perry Kotkas.

It began with a lively presentation by Bart Iverson of The Excalibur-Gemini Group. As Iverson gave a brief history of surveying, Ray MacDonald and Bob Scholte from Raymac Surveys provided the entertainment and props by demonstrating the equipment that's being used. He considered what was required to achieve the best possible results – pre-planning, survey methodology, potential pitfalls and the audit process.

Iverson discussed the pros and cons of survey methodologies and common pitfalls. He also brought everybody's attention to grid and datum issues. The earth's center is now defined from a point that is a few hundred meters off the center from which it was originally defined in 1927. The bottom line, Iverson conceded was that "you've got to start with a good program."

Peter Adams of Active Environmental Services held everyone's attention with his show and tell about line preparation. It was the emergence of the forest products industry, especially in the West Pembina area, that sparked the use of low impact seismic (LIS) lines. Adams spoke primarily on the pros and cons of conventional seismic line construction and LIS, such as, safety, environmental, the economics and speed of construction, in addition to the techniques and equipment available for line preparation.

For its smaller environmental footprint, LIS is on average five meters in width, as compared to eight meters in conventional seismic lines. To assure regulatory compliance and line quality and accuracy, teamwork is required amongst chainsaw operators, bulldozer operators and line pushes.

Larry Herd from Boyd Geomatics clipped through his presentation on skids, offsets and gaps for 2D and 3D work. He defined skids, offsets and gaps and cited the cultural and environmental circumstances as to why they are necessary. Then for 2D and 3D case scenarios, Herd laid out the rules of thumb to determine tolerable distances for source and receiver lines, inline skids and maximum allowable offsets.

Herd also reviewed how the project geophysicist, program designer, acquisition supervisor, permit agent, bird-dog, surveyor/catpush, drillpush/vib op, GPS/GIS technologist and data processor will inter-act to deal with skids, offsets and gaps. While ideal in theory, he also illustrated some problems in practice and the solutions and remedies. Herd concluded with one nugget of advice, "Prior planning prevents pain and panic."

The fourth session for the first day of the Forum delved into seismic energy sources.

Carol Laws of Elk Point Resources and Larry Mewhort of Husky Oil, curbed the sparks that flew from discussions arising from the battle between dynamite versus vibrator technology.

With an accent that remains unsurpassed (expect perhaps, by Wren's), Dr. Ian Ross from Orica Canada Inc. presented an entertaining and convincing presentation, entitled Explosives, The Source You Can't Myth With. According to Ross, the field of explosives is rife with myths, rumours and misconceptions. The layperson's perception is often based on military images or on the depictions of mayhem and destruction shown in popular movies..."

To alleviate fears about the use of explosives, Ross showed slides of an experiment, utilizing fluorescent light bulbs, beer bottles, and raw eggs placed at strategic points away from an explosive. "The particle velocity is the key that there may be damage," explains Ross, who initiated the experiments in the late 1980's and had the results published in an ICI Explosives report, entitled Eggs, Beer Bottles and Light Tubes, A Perspective on the Damage Potential of Seismic Detonation, published January 1991.

Richard Habiuk of Enertec Geophysical Services Ltd. presented an overview of vibroseis data acquisition that began with the historical advantages and disadvantages. While dynamite has safety concerns and a more negative perception in cities, the weaker signals produced by vibroseis acquisition may be too weak to battle with ambient noise levels. He went on to discuss the parameters associated with vibroseis acquisition, such as, number of vibrators, sweep length, frequencies, shape, taper, upsweep, downsweep and amplitude, and how data can be affected. He also discussed some quality control methods and recent technological developments.

From a seismic interpreter's perspective, Doug Pruden from Remington Energy Ltd. presented a balanced story when it came to selecting dynamite or vibroseis for an energy source. Depending on the situation, required configuration and the program's nature, one energy source may be preferred over the other. In the event that a program is being conducted close to water wells and roads, regulators demand vibroseis be selected. Still, under severe geographical conditions, i.e. mountains and cliffs and in the absence of roads, dynamite is preferred.

To test dynamite sources, Pruden said, "You have to pre-determine the source and shot hole parameters and in doing so, you may skip the ideal configuration."

On the other hand, vibroseis can be more flexible, said Pruden; "You can perform change on an ad hoc basis and change sweeps, tapers, etc."

Pruden concluded that dynamite and vibroseis are good sources, with the question remaining, "What works best under the given circumstances?"

The first session on the second day of the forum or session five dealt with safety and environment and program management. Norm Cooper of Mustagh Resources and Bill Quirk moderated this session.

Margot Stevenson from Northern EnviroSearch Ltd. spoke on the environmental issues, " Pre-planning for environmental issues saves you time and waiting time and money in the long run...It's the same for all the pre-planning, but the environment can really bite you."

She pointed out discrepancies in government regulations depending on the region. Consider the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which applies to the Northwest Territories and also to First, Nations lands. When oil companies are exploring on native lands, they are required to send an environmental impact assessment to Indian Oil and Gas at the T'suu Tina in Alberta.

Companies also need to check within Alberta, where sensitive areas, known as Special Places 2000, have been destined for ecological preservation.

Allan Chatenay of Geco-Prakla gave a thorough and insightful report on safety in the geophysical industry, with emphasis on the role of the oil and gas company geophysicist. He discussed concepts of due diligence, the role of the prime contractor, and details of operational issues – HSE management systems, leadership and commitment, inspections and audits and the requirements for responsible supervision.

Vern Krause of Talisman Energy Inc. spoke on the liabilities and responsibilities of a large energy company when it came to operating a seismic program, including the safety and environmental considerations. He revealed how and why Talisman conducted their seismic operations, "It's important that you understand how a program should be operated and in order to do that, you must scout the program in detail and know all the features that may be hidden and later could cause different problems."

"It's not a simple task," Krause explained, "from the economy standpoint – you are trying to balance costs. It's a fine line we tread. A few thousand dollars up front can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the program."

While a large energy company like Talisman can carry out much of its due diligence in-house, small companies find themselves outsourcing to comply with regulations. Neil Rutherford, of PCC Energy Inc. gave some practical and experienced insights on how a small company creates a team to manage its programs effectively, enlisting the contract services of bird-dogs, client representatives and project managers, "Legislation is complex and penalties are stiff. The issues are how do we deal with them."

From the small company management's perspective, there's the need to determine how much work will be done in-house and how much will be outsourced, should field supervision be conducted by a bird-dog or a client representative, hiring guidelines for consultants and finding the right expertise for the circumstances.

"A lot of us think seismic acquisition is just collecting quality data...but the onus is on you, the geophysicist to understand where you can get yourself in trouble," cautioned Rutherford.

Session six delved into the intricacies of instrumentation and geophones and was moderated by Dave Siegfried and Jim Irvine of Norcana Resource Services (1991) Ltd.

The session began with a slight technical glitch when the projection equipment required some coaxing to perform. To make up for lost time and the fact that he was compressing part of one of his infamous seismic courses into a 20-minute slot, Norm Cooper just spoke faster on recording instrumentation. He began with a historical overview of the technology. "A lot of people think the new stuff solves all the old problems. In fact, it solves some problems we are aware of and new equipment is a vast improvement over before, but we've found more problems leading to the next generation of work. "

It was during the early 1990's that recording instrumentation took a quantum leap when very large scale integration reduced the power requirements for complex circuitry. "The technology we use today was available for 30 years but the problem was that seismic instrumentation was just too power hungry," said Cooper.

Following Cooper was Doug Goble's presentation on geophones. Goble's talk in layperson's terms was everything you wanted to know about geophones from case types to number of groups, phone plants to future enhancements. He discussed geophone configurations, the mechanical and electrical components of geophones and common operational checks and remedial action, if required.

On the future for geophones, said Goble, "We anticipate smaller and lighter geophones because channel counts are skyrocketing and because of the logistics. There's the shift towards converting analog geophones into digital systems, which would improve reliability and decrease power consumption."

The last and seventh session for the forum presented the balancing act between cost issues and technical trade-offs when one is trying to optimize the seismic acquisition program.

Charles McCarthy of Amoco Canada Petroleum Company gave an intense overview of six operational considerations for seismic programs and examples of situations where each scenario may be applicable. He presented the pros and cons of each consideration, heli-assisted and heliportable programs, camp vs. hot shot, cat cutting vs. hand cutting of seismic lines, whether hourly rates for various acquisition tasks should be used vs. turnkey rates, how size of a seismic acquisition program impacts costs, and safety and environmental concerns.

Norm Cooper discussed some of the technical design issues when optimizing a seismic program – parameter design philosophies to imaging, survey size and shape, model types and robustness under perturbation and 2-D vs. 3-D.

"There's certainly room for compromise to save costs, but you have to understand what it takes to image the prospects," explained Cooper. "You have to understand the principles of field acquisition, and image quality vs. costs. You have to be careful in that you don't cut the wrong corners and while you'll save money, you might lose on image quality."

The last session, which was moderated by Doug Eaton of Boyd Petrosearch and Perry Kotkas, led a panel discussion of the cost issues vs. technical tradeoffs. The panel was comprised of the two session's presenters, along with Dave Littlewood of Arcis Geophysical Corp, Mike Scott of Veritas DGC Land,Wendy Wald of SeisLine Resource Services Ltd. and Ray Macdonald of Raymac Surveys. Questions probed every possible angle as to what happens before the first shot, from government intervention to labour costs, compliance, how industry organizations should remain involved, and rising safety and environmental costs with seismic programs.

Easton Wren wrapped up the two-day forum with one-liners that summarized his impressions of each presenter. The due diligence theme was reinforced by his remarks, "When you go first class, you cry just once."

The increasingly complex nature of the seismic acquisition process is making it harder for companies to handle everything in-house, noted Wren, " It is impossible to be jack of all trades. This is the vast reality and synergy starts with good communication."



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