The United States is the largest oil and natural gas consumer in the world, using 863 million metric tons of oil in 2016 alone. Although the oil and gas industry has known nothing but turbulence for the better part of two decades, the U.S. ranks high in both the production of natural gas and reserves of both oil and gas.
Janice Dylla thinks it’s important that more people realize the oil and gas reality the U.S. faces.
“The biggest argument from most people is that they hate oil production and what they believe it does to the environment. The fact is, we’re an oil-dependent world, and we’re not going to get away from it, at least in our lifetime.”
Dylla is FairfieldNodal’s Director of Supply Chain who has been in the industry for over 20 years. She knows it’s a tough market and has seen the shift between highs and lows too many times to count. But that doesn’t mean she’s not sensitive to the perceived impact the oil and gas industry has on our planet.
There are ways to lower oil and gas companies’ footprint on the environment, and seismic data plays a part in that.
“Companies waste money and resources drilling in the wrong place. Accurate seismic [data] is a better prediction tool than the old standards and allows for less of an environmental impact.”
Quality seismic data informs every decision oil and gas companies make. Ocean bottom nodal (OBN) seismic, with superior imaging and cost-effective implementation, can mean the difference between a dry hole and an economically viable operation. A node, for anyone who is unfamiliar, is an autonomous recording device.
For over 40 years, FairfieldNodal has innovated, acquired, processed, and licensed seismic technology. The company—a leader in ocean bottom seismic (OBS)—focuses on developing, manufacturing, and deploying exclusive, nodal data-acquisition systems.
The company specializes in exploration through reservoir enhancement, with systems that give global customers the power to make smarter, safer, and more profitable decisions, extending the productive life of their reservoirs.
Since 1976, FairfieldNodal has been a privately-owned organization, starting with the purchase of Aquatronics—a builder of streamer cables, wires, and seismic exploration equipment—in Dallas. Ownership moved the company to Houston, changed the name to Fairfield, and started developing its own seismic crews and equipment.
The acquisition of Telseis brought systems for shallow water transition zones that were used for years. Another system, called The Box, sent information by radio to central systems. But the industry needed to get into deeper water.
Seismic is a small niche of the oil and gas industry but is important and beneficial.
“Seismic data allows oil companies to see what subsurface looks like—meaning it’s less of a gamble of where to drill. It’s like an ultrasound: an image of what the earth looks like below the ground. Geophysicists are looking for fault lines, salt domes, and other geologic formations where oil and gas will seep up. These are the best places to collect.
“Seismic data, and the services and products that FairfieldNodal provide, are doing the world a service by helping oil companies drill in the right place.”
FairfieldNodal has always manufactured its own systems. The company’s nodal systems were born from the need to make things easier, faster, and safer. Now, the company’s innovations are taking that ease to the next level.
“Too much cable on the ocean floor is cumbersome and hard to deal with,” said Dylla. “It takes large crews, a lot of people handling. There are also problems with putting cable on the ocean floor: it’s hard to run under, through, or around existing infrastructure. They can damage on the sea floor and get picked up and chewed on by sealife. Placing one node—a single wireless unit, means there’s a much better chance of collecting data with fewer external hazards.”
FairfieldNodal’s nodal system began development in 2003—and since then the company has never looked back.
The first-of-its-kind Z3000 specifically design for deep water was deployed in late 2005 after FairfieldNodal partnered with BP for design. Of the 920 nodes the company deployed, 99 percent worked—on the first go. The Z3000 is lightweight and autonomous, requiring smaller crews than on-board courier (OBC) systems, meaning fewer risks and reduced downtime. With no cables to work around or worry about, this easily deployed and retrieved device delivers exceptional quality images, providing a solid 4D baseline survey for companies.
“That system is still in use right now off the coast of Brazil,” Dylla shared. “There have been a few modifications to replace batteries and add memory. But I don’t think any of us knew then that we’d still be using this system for this long when we deployed it.”
With six different data acquisition systems—from the ZLand Unit that can be used anywhere on land to the hybrid ZXPLR that can be deployed in shallow or deep water—FairfieldNodal has the gamut covered.
Dylla highlighted the company’s Z700, which is meant for deployment in shallow water.
“The Red Sea in the Middle East has a tremendous amount of coral. It’s very sharp, and nothing you could run a cable through—it would be ripped to shreds and the coral could be impacted. We had a very good initial deployment with the Z700 in this difficult and sensitive environment and were able to collect better quality data because of it.”
Fall of 2017 saw the deployment of the ZXPLR in the Gulf of Mexico. This smaller, more agile node can do the same job as the Z3000, the first in Fairfield Nodal’s ZNodal family of products, but it can go to a depth of 4,000 meters as opposed to 3,000 meters.
As Fairfield develops new data acquisition systems, there is a constant challenge to stay ahead of its competition, deliver to customers on-time, and keep costs in check. The current market component constraints have been a real test to Fairfield’s supply chain.
The company knows it’s not financially responsible to order inventory far in advance of a customer order. Demand planning is extremely difficult in a complex market. But Fairfield has managed to overcome the ever-present problems of long lead times by maintaining an open and honest relationship with its critical suppliers.
“Many of our suppliers have agreed to share our risk by preordering long lead time items for us. Others have gone out of their way to reallocate materials and resources when we needed them. We are fortunate to have these relationships in place and we take care to make sure our transactions are beneficial to both sides.”
The company’s innovations the past decade have helped it through some tumultuous times in the industry.
“The favorite term is ‘new normal’,” Dylla said. “In 2014 oil prices were over $100 a barrel. Companies were making tons of money. But they weren’t looking closely at cost, waste, potential ways to lean down, and what makes sense for an operation. Those days are gone. Today, prices are in the $50s, maxing out at $60. The entire industry is positioning itself to be profitable at a lower price per barrel.”
This means becoming as lean as possible. Major oil companies are pressing contractors to keep prices low, so companies like FairfieldNodal have to do everything they can to stay below a certain margin.
“It’s quite a transition. We, like everyone else in the industry, have been forced to take a close look at everything to make sure we’re the right size, agile, can do the jobs, and maintain quality.”
In recent years, FairfieldNodal has hired a new management team, which has been guided by executive leadership, who already had knowledge on how to manage a downturn.
When the last downturn hit, the first thing leadership did was get rid of the company’s fleet of boats to pursue an asset-light business model. Rather than having boats sit at a dock for a majority of a year, the company now leases vessels as needed.
The company has also expanded its horizons beyond the Gulf of Mexico.
“The reason we became so successful in the Gulf is because the lay of the land there. Much of the subsurface is covered in salt. Before nodes, companies used streamers which stay close to the surface of the water. It provided for some image, but not a good one—sort of like having an astigmatism. FairfieldNodal knew it could create better solutions.
“We could place a node right on top of that salt, and the image becomes so much clearer, like putting on contact lenses. It opened up a lot of information for major oil companies.”
But in 2015, a lot of rigs in the gulf started closing down, as oil companies found them to be less profitable. FairfieldNodal needed to look elsewhere.
“Other places in the world were still actively drilling, and we had to find our way into those markets,” Dylla said. “In general, the oil industry is slow to change, and breaking into a new area is difficult.”
Brazil presented a huge opportunity for the organization, but it’s difficult to get work down south. As the market started to open up, it was a must win for FairfieldNodal;—they’ve been in the region ever since.
“The idea is to do everything we can to keep the door open to new opportunities.”
Amongst these new opportunities is the company’s acquisition of WGP Group Ltd., a U.K.-based provider of marine geophysical services. This opens FairfieldNodal up to new markets and provides new technologies on which to capitalize.
This notion will continue to be key going forward. As the company’s global reach expands, it will be imperative for the operation to continue running lean.
“We want our technology to reach around the world and make seismic exploration—good seismic exploration—more accessible. It’s so important. Companies need to drill in the right place the first time. Seismic is important to reducing the environmental impact. To do that, we’ll do as much as we can to keep our prices low to keep oil accessible for the world.”
For more than 30 years, FairfieldNodal has innovated, acquired, processed, and licensed seismic technology. We are the acknowledged leader in ocean bottom seismic* (OBS)—developing, manufacturing, and deploying exclusive, nodal data-acquisition systems. From exploration through reservoir enhancement, they give our global customers the power to make smarter, safer, and more profitable decisions, extending the productive life of their reservoirs.