Site Surveys and Investigation services is a process of surveying a location where a drilling rig or a platform will be positioned / installed. The process ensures that the location is free of debris, junk, wrecks and shallow gas pockets and flat seabed is identified. A number of other geohazards and environmental risks and manmade seafloor hazards are identified during the surveys, with recommended mitigation actions. These surveys called interchangeably 1) marine site survey, 2) geophysical and geological survey, 3) seabed and subsurface conditions survey, 4) drilling hazard survey 5) seabed survey.
Used in various capacities and combinations during every stage of an oil and gas project, below is a breakdown of the services and type of surveys.
- MARINE SURVEYS
- Seabed Mapping & Charting
- Route Survey
- Manmade Hazards Identification
- Route Survey
- Top Hole Stability
- Shallow Subsurface Geology
- Soil Testing
- Foundation Study
- Soil Strength and Penetration
Not only the surveys are required technically, they are also a mandatory requirement to provide to insurance companies, when procuring drilling or project related insurances, be it a well insurance, a drilling insurance or a BAR insurance. Geotechnical survey is critical and compulsory for a jack up drilling rig operation, when legs of a drilling rig penetrate the seabed. The survey data allows understanding the loads to be applied, as well as to ensure that shallow gas pockets (gas accumulation) are not encountered. During rig moves, the site survey should be conducted at all times, as subsurface data tend to change over time and offset data obtained from a nearby location might not be accurate. Yet, this may not always be the case and highly dependent on the field and the information available.
At the exploration and appraisal phase, the site survey (seabed survey, hazard survey and geotechnical soil testing when a jack up drilling rig is deployed) is used during every rig move. Normally at this stage, the survey area covers the entire block / field, unless earlier acquired data is available.
At the development stage, the survey scope includes: site and pipeline route survey, geotechnical coring and platform foundation engineering analysis. This is usually part of an EPC contract to deliver a facility. Yet, there might be cases at redevelopment stages, when this is done by an operator, to help in decision making or FEED scoping.
The industry of marine surveys is known to be a hi-end technology user with multi-discipline skills. Each serving a different purpose and deployed from a dedicated survey vessel, a number of different tools used to conduct a survey. Those include echo sounders, side scan sonars, profilers, magnometers shallow seismic, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), drilling spread for seabed and soil testing, to name a few.
Any survey is a relatively long process and done in stages:
- Scope of Work and Tender Management
- Survey Planning
Execution and Data Acquisition
- Equipment and Vessel Mobilization
- Change Management
Interpretation and Analysis
- Data validation and Integration
- Data Interpretation and Analysis
This BIBBY Hydromap's schematic shows a typical equipment layout.
Risks & Opportunities
- Integrated disciplines coordinated and managed by a single project team is challenging
- Selecting the time of the year when to conduct a survey can result in 15-35% reduction in overall cost of the survey, due to less weather downtime and more efficient data acquisition
- Single-pass surveying, whereby in one a single pass of a vessel a number of activities can be carried out simultaneously, would have a significant cost saving potential, as less time is required to conduct a survey.
Supply & Demand Dynamics
Demand for the site survey services is driven by exploration, appraisal and development activities around the world. Around 60% of the site survey services are required during exploration, appraisal activities with the rest during the development stage. In addition, at the exploration and appraisal phase, the survey area and complexity is larger than during the field development. Although with a smaller share, offshore wind farms projects, telecom and power cable laying projects worldwide, have a direct impact on the demand for site survey services as well, and are independent of the oil industry.
The site survey services would show very limited growth opportunities in 2017 and 2018. Primarily due to limited exploration activities and investment preference to brownfield projects, i.e. improve / maintain existing production, dominating the investments.
Fugro has dominated supply of site survey services for many years and is the only company covering a full spectrum of the survey services. A number of other companies do exist, but their specialization is limited to a geographic area or technology type. Hence, there is no direct global competitor to Fugro.
In GCC there are a number of smaller companies providing the services. An evident trend in the supply side is emergence of local service providers in the lower-end segment. In addition, majority of equipment and vessels used in the services is manufactured / owned by 3rd parties.
New Entrance is Low
- Knowledge and experience is difficult to overcome
- Cyclical market
Supplier Power is Low
- Accumulated knowledge is key
- A highly competitive environment
- Low switching costs
- High entry barriers
- Equipment manufactured by 3rd parties
Buyer Power is Medium
- Many providers
- Critical to buyers
- Cyclical demand for services
- Does not exist
Cost & Price Analysis
As a result of increased exploration activities over the last several years, prices for site survey services have been showing a significant upward trend on a global basis. This segment is highly cyclical on the demand side, as such service providers tend to keep the capacity balanced, and in times of higher demand, prices are going up. In addition, due call-out nature, the fixed costs are high. Coupled with cyclical demand, and balanced capacity, opportunistic pricing strategies by suppliers is very common in this category.
In the near term, low oil price will put price pressure on services companies and manufacturers. Yet, service companies may sustain this pressure by offsetting slowed demand with cable laying and wind farm industries.
Majority of equipment and vessels used in the services is manufactured by 3rd parties or leased. Hence, service companies build up their fleet based on anticipated demand. Very few companies have in-house R&D and manufacturing capabilities. Those companies would have a significantly higher cost basis that would make them less competitive in a lower end segment.
Below are the major cost drivers:
- Depreciation costs - has a direct impact on the prices, as purchased equipment is depreciated over various time periods. With cyclical demand for the services, this is one of the highest cost element.
- Steel prices - directly impacts the cost basis of tools and vessels
- Personnel costs - highly volatile, site survey personnel is a very skilled job and lack of highly experienced personnel is always evident. Oil price slump and massive redundancies in the industry may have a limited impact on personnel rates.
- Suppliers' quality and experiences is the key areas to consider. Competitive tendering with robust technical evaluation model would provide tremendous benefits, both technical and commercial
- Introducing risk and reward mechanism, whereby service provider performance is rewarded and underperformance in penalized, might result in a faster survey job
- Carving out weather risks from service company liability may result in very significant cost savings, as contractors tend to be very conservative when estimating weather standby days and always build in the worth case scenario
- Refrain using lump sum contracts if the scope and risks have any significant uncertainty
- Ensure the scope if very clear so there is less uncertainty to service companies