The rise of Multi-Client data & new business models

According to NPD’s Factpages, no application has been submitted for exclusive 2D or 3D seismic surveys for the 2020 season.

During the past months, important priorities have been made based on geological challenges, technical capabilities, targeted solutions, operational capacity, environmental and financial evaluations, for both proprietary and multi-client acquisition, before the survey applications have been submitted to the authorities.

For the oil companies, it is all about making the right priorities related to existing work programs, new commitments, tight budgets, which areas need new seismic the most, what kind of seismic is needed, and re-evaluations if any new opportunities have arisen that could be more beneficial for the company.

Cooperation and co-existence 

A number of industry meetings have also been held in preparation for the upcoming season, both individually and jointly, between Norsk Olje & Gass (NOROG ), Chapter Norway of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC), the Directorate of Fisheries and local fishermen organisations, the Marine Research Institute (MRI) and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD). All aiming to secure co-existence on the Norwegian Continental Shelf during the seismic season.

NPD updated the reporting system in 2019, to facilitate more accurate reporting and a system more suitable for the various types of seismic surveys.

NOROG is urging everyone to actively use the sam-x website, established some years ago to facilitate efficient information flow between any party working out in the sea, allowing these to keep track of the other parties’ location and time schedule.

Communication is key and even within IAGC the competing companies are sharing plans with each other to avoid unnecessary timeshare and increased project costs.

Multi-Client (MC) data

The industry has recently seen a stronger focus on MC (non-exclusive) data acquisition rather than contract (exclusive) acquisition.  MC represents several advantages for the oil companies, such as reduced cost and smaller workload.

In addition to this, MC gives oil companies great flexibility in selecting the right volume of data to fit their scheduled work programs. The MC data covers larger areas with seamless acquisition and processing linking together several business areas and geological plays.

3D seismic acquisitions in the central North Sea for the past 20 years. The modern 3D database is dominated by MC surveys from different vendors (in yellow, red, green and dark grey). The older contract data from 1990 to 2010 (in brown) is almost covered by modern MC seismic.

When MC data is available at the time that production licenses are awarded, much time is saved, in some cases up to two years. The oil company can then instead focus on a target-specific reprocessing in the work program. This time saving for production licenses also reduces their costs.

“The reason for the increase in MC data is due to a combination of increased willingness to invest in MC surveys over the past 10 years from the MC companies, and less time and personnel within the oil companies to operate contract surveys. The cost awareness in the oil sector over the past decade has also promoted large cost-effective surveys,” says Bent Kjølhamar, Chief Geologist at TGS.

“The seismic technology developments in recent years have been led by the MC companies, and a healthy, competitive MC market has steadily brought forward the availability of better quality MC data”, Kjølhamar continues.

In the past, oil company representatives “passively” followed the MC operations as project partners, leaving everything from the permitting process to the onshore data processing to the seismic contractor.

Nowadays, participating oil companies of the MC projects are very more involved, which is a win-win situation as the final product has more input from the oil companies (end-users). The oil company representatives also function as an extra team to QC and guide the MC team in everything from accepting/rejecting the shot sail-lines, to selecting the optimal processing parameters and sequence.

However, MC data might also represent a risk for oil companies if the geology is complex, and new acquisition technologies are introduced to address the geological challenges. Then a dilemma occurs: should the oil company accept the double cost to optimise the technical work with the new technology, or would the cost prevent the optimised solution.

Also, there might be a difference of opinion between the MC contractor and an oil company on the time to be spent on testing in processing the data.



Examples of planned and pending surveys in the Southern North Sea, NCS. Map: NPD Factpages.

New business models
Traditionally, several contractors had their own fleet, where the vessels were either used for MC acquisition during times with no contract work or used for MC projects during X number of weeks or months per yeari.e. strategically set percentage of total vessel utilization 

Now, as new business models have arisen, more companies are asset lighti.e holding no vessels for contract work. Last year, we saw CGG selling their fleet out to Shearwater, leaving PGS as the major seismic company for both MC and proprietary acquisition. TGS bought Spectrum, strengthening even further TGS’ position as the holder of the industry’s largest data library.  

The companies acquiring ocean bottom seismic by nodes are now also trying to get into the MC business: Axxis already successfully started in 2018, teaming up with TGS in the North Seafor the acquisition of “the world’s largest MC node survey“.

This season, Magseis Fairfield will join the party, commencing their 1st MC node project together with CGG over the Central Graben in the North Sea. 

These large node projects have come up thanks to close cooperation between oil companies and the contractors, aiming for each early participant to obtain high-density imaging over their key areas while sharing between them the cost of these operationally demanding and expensive surveys.