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Southeast Asian Exploration (SAE): a cable-less seismic first

By Neil Ritchie

A new seismic company has arrived in New Zealand, bringing with it a new method of conducting seismic surveys that does away with cattle chewing cables and interfering with equipment.

Southeast Asian Exploration (SAE) brought the “cable-less” survey into the country earlier this year and has already used the advanced American technology for the first time during a sophisticated three dimensional seismic (3D) “shoot” for Canadian company New Zealand Energy Corporation in central Taranaki.

The 3D survey was done over parts of NZEC’s adjacent onshore Taranaki licences Eltham (PEP 51150) and Alton (PEP 51151), and helped identify further prospects likely to hold oil and gas for future exploration drilling.

SAE is now taking the new equipment and some personnel across the North Island to start a second cable-less survey, again for NZEC, but this time a two dimensional (2D) “shoot of about 100km of data in the Wairarapa during June and July.

Project manager Brad Scouller says the initial 100 square kilometre “Rotokare” survey went very well, with “positive feedback” from landowners, farmers and the public in general, including management of the Rotokare Wildlife Reserve and local Maori iwi Ngati Ruanui.

“We did not encounter any opposition.”

Ngati Ruanui has an agreement with NZEC regarding the oil company’s activities within its rohe, or territory.

Scouller says some members of Ngati Ruanui were also engaged as field personnel during the Rotokare survey – “and we have kept the majority for the upcoming East Coast work.”

Taranaki contractors engaged included New Plymouth firm BTW Company, for survey work, and Urenui’s Precision Helicopters, for flying people and equipment, as well as Wellington based Webster Drilling for the drilling of shot holes

Some of the cable-less equipment, personnel and their roles remain the same as with traditional seismic work, where cables are used extensively.

However, cable-less surveys mean fewer land personnel are needed, there is less downtime and no “dog box”, the small portable control room from where conventional seismic operations are monitored and controlled.

Cable-less seismic still involves surveying the land, putting down marker pegs, and drilling the shallow shot holes down which explosives are later detonated. However, there are no receivers positioned in grids around the survey area and connected by kilometres of cables.

Handheld global positioning system (GPS) devices and proprietary software allows quicker positioning, initiating, testing and retrieving the “nodes” that are either staked onto or buried in the ground.

Only about 20 people were needed in the field for the cable-less shoot, compared with up to 60 crew if the Rotokare survey had used a conventional cabled seismic system. 

“So fewer land personnel needed, there is less downtime, surveys are finished quicker and the environmental footprint is greatly reduced,” says Scouller.

And some Canadian specialists have been brought to New Zealand specifically to oversee the first few new surveys.

SAE intends shooting about 70km of  two dimensional (2D) data over parts of NZEC’s two East Coast leases,  PEP 38342 (Te Parae) and PEP 52694 (Tinui), again to help identify structures that may contain commercial quantities of oil or gas.

 “This was definitely the first cable-less seismic shot in New Zealand, perhaps in the Southern Hemisphere, and we are looking forward to making this new cost effective technology more widely available for other clients to use,” Scouller concludes.