Recent events have signaled the end of an era in the Canadian seismic industry. First, in May of this year, Geo-X Systems Ltd. sold its processing division to Divestco Inc. Then in early September came the announcement that CGG would be purchasing Veritas DGC. To many, these two companies represented cornerstones of the Canadian seismic service sector for the better part of the last thirty years. On a personal level I was employed by Geo-X most of my career, and competed against Veritas for that time also. But I’ve chosen to comment on this not to lament the passing of some mythical golden era, but rather to celebrate two of our industry’s genuine success stories. I fully expect that the change will be positive in many ways for both operations, and that they will continue to be central to our industry in their new guises.
The two companies have some interesting parallels, but what is even more interesting is that both succeeded with totally different business models. Geo-X Systems started in 1971, shortly after Veritas was founded. Their early history is best left to others, but with Geo-X, Don Chamberlain pursued a private ownership model, while Dave Robson, with Veritas, ultimately created a publicly traded company. Dave and Don were friends prior to starting their own companies, friendly competitors over the years, and my understanding is that now that Dave is officially retired, the two of them have more time to socialize again.
Dave and Don have both been honoured with the highest award given out by the CSEG, the CSEG Medal. Their contributions to exploration geophysics, and the contributions of the employees working for their companies, have been considerable. Both Veritas and Geo-X have been fantastic supporters of the CSEG over the years. For as long as I can remember, pretty well every CSEG effort, whether it was a convention, a social event, a publication – whatever – would have Geo-X and Veritas providing sponsorship, volunteers, and other forms of support.
Equally important, both companies maintained significant levels of research spending. This has given many Canadian geophysics graduates a viable option to pursue pure research while remaining in Canada, and the two companies have provided a certain critical mass to seismic research in Calgary that kept things going in lean years. The positive spin-offs from this would be hard to measure, but many key technical personnel at various Calgary companies are either Geo-X or Veritas “graduates”. This spin-off effect is also evident in a business sense, with many former Geo-X and Veritas personnel having started up dynamic smaller companies.
With the sale of the Geo-X Processing Division, Don Chamberlain can now concentrate on the renamed ARAM Systems Ltd. The ARAM recording system is one of the Canadian geophysical industry’s true success stories. ARAM equipment is deployed in almost every significant onshore oil-producing region on earth, and is the system of choice in difficult environments such as transition zones and urban areas. This leading edge, world-beating technology is 100% homegrown, and something to be proud of. Geo-X processing, the area Geo-X built its success on, has found a perfect new home with Divestco, a younger but equally dynamic local company. So from my own perspective, the mantle has been passed to a worthy successor.
Veritas I don’t know as much about, so I won’t be as expansive in my comments, but its accomplishments have been absolutely incredible. The value of the sale to CGG was given an announced value of C$3.2 billion. That is a ten-digit number for goodness sakes! The computers Veritas started with back in the late 60s would probably have had problems manipulating a number that big. Of course the sale to CGG is not a done deal yet, and may not actually close. But Veritas really grew beyond the Canadian market some time ago - once it merged with Digicon a number of years ago, Veritas started a gradual evolution towards being more of an American company, and less of a Canadian one. My hope is whatever shape it takes through this recent change, that it will continue to provide a strong centre of excellence in the Canadian seismic sector.
Companies such as Veritas and Geo-X are a big reason that the Canadian oil patch is a great place to work, and we can only hope that we continue to create good corporate citizens such as them, and companies committed to technical excellence. While Geo-X and Veritas are two notables, there are numerous other companies that conduct themselves in a similar way, so I think we’re in good shape.
I’ll segue from the words technical excellence into a short footnote on a technical event held in August that the CSEG helped make possible. Some time earlier in the year, Gary Margrave from the U of C gave a pitch to the CSEG executive to support a summer workshop to be put on by the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Studies (PIMS). The executive were unanimous in the opinion that this event would fall squarely in the middle of the society’s mandate, so the CSEG helped underwrite the event and it moved forward. The workshop lived up to expectations, and although it passed under the radar for most CSEG members, it turned out to be a summer highlight for the more mathematically inclined in our industry. I expect that many fertile new ideas have sprung from this PIMS workshop, some of which will lead to real technological advances. Peter Cary spearheaded the CSEG support for it, and he has written a brief report featured on page 32 [link] of this RECORDER.