There are approximately 40,000 acres of farmland and wineries near Pau, in the picturesque Pyrenees-Atlantique region of southwest France.
It is an area dotted by grapes, but also corn, zucchini, peas, fava beans, potatoes, spinach, carrots and radishes and, of course, French farmers.
It is a beautiful, transcendent area that holds “the world’s most beautiful view of the earth,” according to French writer Alphonse de Lamartine.
So, if you’re going to perform 3-D seismic surveys in the area, moving heavy machinery close to fragile plants, you need to be careful – and you need to tell those farmers what you’re doing and how long you’ll be doing it.
“Our cable crews can react on demand either on direct calls by the farmers or by permit,” says Rudiger Misiek, whose company, GmbH & Company, is doing just that.
“This allows a smooth cooperation with the local people,” he adds.
Essen-based DMT GmbH & Company is doing the seismic acquisition work on behalf of a Canadian oil and gas producer Vermillion Energy, and its goal is to increase oil production from the existing Vic Bilh oil field, which lies north of Pau.
Misiek knows that, along with the technical and organizational challenges that face the company, there is something else equally important for him and his company: How not to affect the local environment and/or disturb local residents.
He says, “We must be able to react very quickly.”
It’s not like such an endeavor hasn’t happened before. Such exploration first occurred in 1977 and then again in 1984, but all admit those projects failed to deliver sufficient data about the targeted structure and, by extension, the potential oil yield.
So, they’re trying again.
“Data acquisition is running smoothly,” Misiek said at about the project’s halfway point, “and probably will be finished in the beginning of September.”
He is more hopeful about the findings, even if the timing of the project could have been better.
“Running such an operation during the vacation period in an area intensively used by the farmers” is a challenge, he said, and has been possible only because of the communication and trust between the locals and the company.
“Information is one of the key issues to run a smooth project,” he said, “and Vermilion did a very good job so far in public relations.”
And the public relations angle is not to be discounted – or subordinated. Large oil and gas concerns versus cinematic, quintessential French farmers in straw hats. Well, whom do you think would lose that PR battle?
“It is very important that the inhabitants trust our crew who stick to the agreements and are working in a safe and reliable manner.”
He is a realist, though.
“It’s inevitable that this kind of geological exploration causes some interference for the local resident and the environment, but thanks to our highly-experienced specialists and the latest technology, we are able to keep any encroachment to a minimum.”
And that technology is a point to consider, as well.
“We are generating the seismic energy using three AHV IV vibrators (vibroseis), and the data is being recorded with the Sercel 428 acquisition system,” he said.
In other words, a cable-based system.
He says, somewhat surprisingly, this system in this location is preferable to wireless seismic – which provides seismic recordings wirelessly with real-time data transmission – for reasons specific to the area.
“In western Europe, the use of a cable system is the preferred option, as the control of all stations is very important.
“In such dense populated or intensively used agricultural areas the cable system allows to evaluate data quality of all stations at the spot.”
Misiek knows there may be doubters.
“Vermilion has invited majors, local press and other VIPs to see the field work directly,” he said. “Our crew is always open for visitors (with client approval, of course) and give support and information as much as possible.”
Technically, as you’d imagine, such surveying needs to be well planned – it also has to be more successful than those previous efforts.
“The existing data are mainly from the ’70s and ’80s and older,” Misiek said. “Hence most of the data is 2-D data and only a very small cube has been acquired.”
He says this was too small to allow a full interpretation of the area of interest.
“Two-D data is a good start,” he said, “but today it is no longer state-of-the-art for exploring an oil deposit in detail.”
The next step: DMT Petrologic will process the data so geoscientists can see how much is there.
And even then, it’s just a big first step.
“In a wine cellar,” Jean-Jacques Mosconi, Total’s director of strategy, whose company global headquarters are in the area, said, “you know exactly how much wine you have. For oil, it’s different. You only know your final reserves once you run out.”