If there’s one thing that’s been constant in the geophysical industry for the past 10 years, it is, ironically, change. Adjusting to change is an ongoing challenge to industry. Over the past decade, companies and individuals have critically assessed the way exploration has been planned and conducted, and this has resulted in the operating methods that are used today.
A significant change occurred in 1996 when an industry/government working group, led by Herman Selcho, developed the concept of low-impact seismic (LIS). It signaled the beginning of the end for techniques such as “dropping the blade” and producing a straight receiver or source line wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Today, industry and government no longer accept this method of producing a seismic line. The objectives of LIS were to conduct seismic exploration while reducing industry’s footprint on the land-base, lessening wildlife concerns and, where possible, mitigating merchantable timber loss.
Narrower seismic lines have evolved considerably since 1996. According to the November 2004 issue of The Edge, Forestry Business Magazine, “Land clearing for individual seismic lines is down by 65 per cent, and about 70 per cent of the 75,000 kilometers of seismic line approved on public land each year are now low-impact. Seismic lines are three meters wide on average, a significant reduction from the standard eightmetre swath of 10 years ago”. Industry continues to improve on the technique of LIS by developing specialized equipment such as mulchers, mini-drills and surface energy equipment.
While the need to establish clear direction on seismic-line width has been widely recognized by government and industry, an industry working group is responding to the challenge put forward by the Joint Government/Industry Geophysical Steering Committee. This committee challenged industry to critically assess line widths on 2D and 3D programs, as well as 3D programs related to Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), and provide input into the development of government policy on line widths. Once this information has been reviewed, government and industry will discuss and revise the Policy and Procedures Document for Submitting the Geophysical Field Report Form.
Another significant challenge to the exploration industry is the preparatory work that is required. Moving the geophysical program forward to an on-the-ground exploration program requires knowledge of the program a rea, geophysical operations and equipment, ground scouting, integrated land management decisions and logistical planning. All of this must occur before applying to Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) for an exploration approval. This requirement is increasingly apparent when applying for approval for a SAGD program. If planning and scouting are conducted accurately, the program licensee will face few difficulties in completing the Geophysical Field Report and obtaining program approval from SRD.
The Exploration Regulation (AR 214/98) has been under review since 1999. It is anticipated the new regulation will come into force in 2005. When the revised Exploration Regulation is proclaimed and becomes law, industry will have to accommodate the requirements of the new legislation and its associated directives. Training sessions on the new legislation and its associated directives will be developed through the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors, the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, and SRD.
On private land, there is an increasing challenge to maintain cooperative relationships between landowners and the exploration industry. Landowner consent must be obtained before a company can access private land to conduct part or all of an exploration program. With the increasing number of subdivisions, acreage owners and issues resulting from geophysical operations, maintaining a cooperative relationship with landowners is becoming a greater challenge.
Although a geophysical program is only a temporary use of the land surface, it is generally the precursor to further oil and gas development. Thus, the initial contact with government, municipalities, landowners and non-governmental organizations establishes the working relationship for all other oil and gas activity to follow.
The changes over the past 10 years have neither been easy nor uneventful. Overall, the exploration industry has responded to these changes by adapting and becoming more innovative. This will continue to challenge the exploration industry as they move forward.
One program that will help industry do just that is the Access Management Program. Led by SRD with input from all stakeholders, the program will be applicable to all public land in the province. It will be a comprehensive program whereby the term “access management” is used in the broadest sense, and means access or use of public land by all user groups including the general public, industry, and government.
The intent of the program is to provide an adaptive and flexible framework that all users of public land will adopt as a core part of carrying out their activities. This is a long-term initiative that will link into the provincial government’s 20-year strategic plan, “Today’s Opportunities, Tomorrow’s Promise”. It is anticipated the framework will be developed and implemented by 2009-2010. SRD will be seeking input and participation in this important initiative over the upcoming months.
For more information on challenges facing the exploration industry from a Government of Alberta perspective, contact Mr. Laurice Block, Exploration Unit Head. For further information on the Access Management Program, contact Mr. Dave Bartesko, Program Manager.