The future of land exploration: brute force and ignorance, or adherence to the science?
It is difficult to ignore claims, brought on by the continuing relatively low price of oil, that the business of land seismic surveying is stuck in the doldrums. Those in the know assure us that until oil returns to $100 or more, such operations will be too expensive to undertake routinely while these same ‘experts’ believe hardware development and manufacture will never be significantly profitable again. As one who has written and spoken extensively on this subject for decades, sadly I have to agree that the bien pensants may for once have a point, or part of one anyway. I do not see that land equipment and exploration can expect a bright future if oil continues to hover around its current price. However, this is only if land seismic carries on in the way it has been doing. If we make some overdue technological changes and adhere better to the science, the future is bright and potentially very profitable. With much of the necessary new technology in or starting to move out of incubators, an investment less than the cost of acquiring a medium-sized survey could be all it takes. Therefore, the prospect of low cost oil actually presents significant commercial opportunities to someone. Most of us in land seismic have known for years that things could not go on the way they were. Consider whether we were even operating in ways which would have made our business sustainable with oil down at $50, a level we all surely knew was coming one day. Where did we go wrong given that this oil price not so long ago would have supported a healthy exploration industry? It seems to some, me included, that for a decade or more we have let ourselves get carried away with the ‘brute force and ignorance’ approach to land acquisition and processing, while abandoning the need to base all we do on fundamental physics. We did not pay attention to the still small voices within us which were saying things had to change, possibly perhaps they were the whispers from those who did not represent some of the larger commercial interests of the community. An industry built on the twin towers of high oil prices and low regard for science was never going to thrive when there was not so much cash to throw around. Now, some hardware weaknesses are becoming all too apparent making land exploration even further beyond the reach of most companies who otherwise would willingly use it. The changes necessary to revitalise our industry will not be to everyone’s liking but, when the hurlysburly’s done, we’ll have a business much better suited to the future.