A New Concept in Seismic Exploration

Polarcus is a new seismic company with an unusual agenda - to pioneer the acquisition of high quality towed streamer seismic data while causing minimal impact on the environment.
This article appeared in Vol. 5, No. 5 - 2008


Christian Fenwick is Senior VP Business Development & Multi Client for Polarcus. He joined Polarcus as a Senior Vice President in 2008. Christian holds a B.Sc. in Geology from the University of Durham, and his 27 year career in the industry has included assignments in London, Moscow, Houston, Calgary, Jakarta and Dubai. Photo: Polarcus "Our vision is to be a pioneer in an industry where the frontiers of seismic exploration are responsibly expanded without harm to our world," explains Christian Fenwick, Senior Vice President of Polarcus. "In recent years our industry has made great advances in reducing its environmental footprint but we believe there is still much more that can be done, especially on the maritime side. We see this becoming increasingly urgent as exploration moves into more and more environmentally sensitive areas, including the polar regions."

Seismic industry is buoyant

The unique design features of the new vessels being built for Polarcus will help maintain safe and clean operations, both in environmentally sensitive regions like the Arctic, and in established producing zones with surface infrastructure. Image: Polarcus Dubai-based Polarcus was set up in early 2008 by a team of people very experienced in the seismic industry. Their aim was to provide the oil and gas industry with high-end towed marine 3D and 4D contract acquisition services and multi-client projects, and to undertake this with the least possible impact on the environment.  

"To achieve this we are committed to being at the leading edge of maritime and technological innovation," Christian says. "We have set ourselves an ambitious environmental agenda that aims to minimize our environmental footprint through a combination of reduction, recycling and carbon offsetting, with the emphasis on reduction through a combination of new technologies and the development of a corporate ‘green' culture."  

"We believe that the outlook for the seismic industry is strong, and that the towed streamer marine segment will remain core to that industry. Demand for 3D and 4D seismic surveys has consistently exceeded supply over the past few years, and despite many vessels being added in recent years, the number of ships available remains below the projected demand curve. We envisage a very positive outlook for the industry through to 2012 and beyond. The recent turmoil in the financial markets doesn't change the underlying fundamental that global oil demand continues to grow rapidly, driven particularly by the non-OECD countries, whilst the supply side struggles to add sufficient new reserves and production to keep up. This is one of the key drivers resulting in oil companies seeking to open up new frontiers such as the Arctic."  

In addition to this, as Christian points out, the seismic industry has undergone some major changes in recent years. "The advent of WAZ and MAZ (wide- and multi-azimuth surveying - Geo ExPro 2008/04) has meant that companies can now explore for sub-salt, sub-basalt and carbonate reef plays with greater imaging clarity. This is providing oil companies with the opportunity to explore more complex, deeper plays with less risk."

‘Green Design' vessels

Rolf Ronningen, CEO of Polarcus, and Geoff Taylor, of Drydocks World, sign an agreement for the building of the first of Polarcus’ unique seismic vessels in May 2008 Photo: Polarcus Such high environmental ambitions must start with the most important element of an offshore survey, the vessel. Polarcus has on order no less than six of the most technologically advanced ships ever built. "We are investing in the latest new-build vessel designs from Ulstein Design AS. All our ships feature a unique inverted bow, which has a number of operational and environmental advantages," Christian continues. "For instance, it allows the boat to travel at higher transit speeds in calm water due to the low angle of entry and increased hull length at the water line, leading to reduced power consumption and higher fuel efficiency. There is no bow flare, eliminating bow slamming, which in turn reduces noise and vibration levels throughout the ship."  

"In addition, the vessels will have a lower environmental footprint than most conventional vessels. They run on marine gas oil with a low sulphur content and are fitted with exhaust catalysts which reduce the NO2 emissions by 90 to 98%, soot by 20 to 30% and hydrocarbon emissions by 80 to 90%. The majority of the boats will also incorporate, uniquely in our industry we believe, a ballast water treatment system, important for ensuring that living organisms are not transferred from one marine environment to another through ballast water, particularly when moving vessels into fragile ecosystems like the Arctic."  

The ships being built by Polarcus will all be equipped with the latest generation solid streamers, which unlike the older flexible streamers, do not contain kerosene which can leak and cause pollution. "We also opted for the latest Sercel-G guns, which do not require lubrication, again eliminating any risk of contamination," Christian adds.

Arctic key to future

The first Polarcus 3D seismic vessel taking shape in Dubai as a key section of the hull is moved into place for the keel laying in September 2008 Photo: Polarcus Polarcus is planning to develop a multi-client business in the near future, and it sees the Arctic region as being key to the development not only of the company but of the future hydrocarbon industry.  

"The Arctic actually comprises 6% of the Earth's surface and has a shelf area of more than 7 million km2 - that's equivalent to four and a half times the size of the whole Gulf of Mexico," says Christian. "Recent estimates from the USGS suggest that the region holds 240 Bboe of known oil and gas reserves, 10% of the world's total, and that it also has the potential for as much as 412 Bboe undiscovered reserves. More than four-fifths of this is expected to be found offshore."  

"Any work in this area has to be undertaken with great environmental consideration, which is why we are designing our vessels to the highest possible specifications, with four of our boats built to DNV's ICE 1A notation enabling us to work more safely whilst maximising the Arctic operating season."

Environmental ethos

It is not just in ship design that Polarcus puts the environment at the top of its agenda. "Every decision we make in the company has an environmental consideration, from how we fit out our offices and shipboard accommodation to the planned use of video-conferencing in preference to flying, even down to the supplies we use in the office," say Christian. "To this end we are seeking to employ an environmental expert, reporting directly to the CEO, Rolf Ronningen, who will be concerned with all aspects of our environmental agenda and provide an environmental leadership role internally and externally."

So far, the industry seems very interested in the concept of an environmentally friendly seismic company, particularly one with the level of expertise, innovation and commitment which comes with Polarcus. The first vessel will be launched in 2009, and Christian considers that Polarcus will be offering the cleanest service in the industry, while being capable of working in the broadest range of operating environments. However, even at that point, the company will still have one over-arching ambition, as Christian explains:  

"We would like to see environmental considerations gradually become embedded into the decision-making process of all companies in the industry. This is our major challenge."


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