Polarcus – Exploration and Opportunity
Polarcus entered the marine seismic exploration arena in 2009, delivering upstream oilfield services to the offshore oil and gas industry. We learn how a hydrocarbon exploration company is playing their role in the energy transition which remains reliant on responsible hydrocarbon exploration and production for the coming decades.
Headquartered in the Middle East with offices in Houston, London, Oslo and Singapore the company provides services to exploration and production (E&P) companies globally, from Norway to Australia, from Brazil to Sakhalin and everywhere in between.
“We provide clients with a subsurface image for an offshore area of interest. They then make operational and economic decisions based on that information to evaluate the production of hydrocarbons,” says Duncan Eley, CEO of Polarcus. “We are about responsibly de-risking the oil and gas value chain.”
The company was founded in 2008, building six vessels in the Middle East and two in Norway to enter the high-end 3D marine seismic acquisition space. Each Polarcus ship is designed to tow 12-14 seismic “streamers” through the water at a depth 10-20 metres below the surface of the water. Water depths for seismic exploration vary greatly, between 20m and 4,000m. Each streamer is typically up to 10km long and the separation of the streamers is 100m meaning that each vessel is towing highly sensitive recording equipment through the water that is around 1.5km wide and 10km long! This gives you an idea of the scale of the equipment Polarcus vessels are towing through the water to create an accurate sub-surface image of what is happening beneath the earth’s crust.
“We successfully entered the high-end 3D marine seismic acquisition sector and built market share solidly from 2009 to 2013. From the oil price crash of 2014, the key has been navigating the external environment to ensure Polarcus remains competitive in the sector and continues to build on the reputation we have created with all major E&P companies around the world,” Eley tells us. “A key differentiator of the Polarcus service offering has been our unique environmental agenda, known as Explore Green™ which is central to the sustainability of our business and resonates strongly with many clients”.
From the very beginning, Eley has been a firm believer that sustainability, and the environmental commitment of Polarcus, should remain strategic priorities for the Company.
“For the coming decades, hydrocarbons are going to be a critical resource across the globe as we transition to different sources of energy,” Eley says. “Hydrocarbons must be identified and produced in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. A key component of the Polarcus offering to clients is the vessel design and operational methodologies that will ensure this can happen.”
All Polarcus vessels feature a double-hull design to avoid any chance of fuel spills, alongside other leading maritime technologies such as ballast water management treatment, bilge water cleaning systems and catalytic converters that can remove harmful greenhouse gases from the ship’s exhaust.
“We have committed to being at the forefront of optimizing the environmental footprint of the marine seismic acquisition industry,” Eley tells us. “We are one of the only companies that report quarterly emissions to air for our global operations. Clients are now seeing that by engaging Polarcus they are improving their own environmental footprint – which is becoming more and more important to their own stakeholders.”
These efforts have achieved recognition worldwide, and a direct consequence of the Explore Green™ initiative is that Polarcus has one of the only maritime fleets worldwide that has Triple E™ certification from DNV-GL.
“We set environmental targets, measure against them and demonstrate continuous improvement,” Eley explains. “This environmental commitment is gaining more and more traction with our clients, investors, and regulators around the world. Despite the tough global economic conditions, our focus on the environment remains unwavering.”
While minimizing the environmental impacts of traditional seismic exploration and production optimization has been central to Polarcus’ offering several specific opportunities have arisen.
“An interesting niche area has seen several clients engaging us to identify empty reservoirs for carbon capture and storage for national decarbonization strategies. We have carried out such projects in Norway, Japan and Australia, defining subsurface structures suitable for various industrial operations that need to capture and store carbon,” Eley explains.
Sustainability is a central part of Polarcus’ strategy, and the environmental focus is only one element of this.
“For Polarcus, sustainability incorporates an environmental pledge, a social commitment and a corporate governance obligation. In addition to our very visible environmentally focused initiatives, we also carefully look at how we interact with, and optimise the lives of our employees and the communities in which we operate globally,” Eley says. “In addition, the corporate governance aspects include strict monitoring of how the company is structured and administrated. All these elements we describe in detail in our annual Polarcus Sustainability Report.”
Innovating to overcome
Since its inception, Polarcus has encountered significant headwinds in terms of the global financial crisis from 2008, the oil price crisis from 2014, followed by the COVID-19 and associated oil price crash in 2020.
“Our culture has been built by harnessing innovation to navigate our way through several challenging periods,” Eley points out. “What’s come out of this has been extremely positive and as an example this links directly back to our pioneering Explore Green™ agenda which is ultimately about operational efficiency, decreasing fuel consumption, reducing emissions and minimising damage to the environment. That efficiency drive in our offshore and onshore operations has been really important from both financial and environmental sustainability perspectives.”
Indeed, Polarcus is looking at instigating further, significant changes in the way they do things. The volume of data that Polarcus vessels record is so large that the means of delivering the final subsurface imaging data to clients is changing. Traditionally the data was recorded on tape or hard drives which are then shipped from the vessel to the shoreside and then onward to the client’s office. Polarcus CIRRUS™ offering enables far more efficient delivery of data with a greatly reduced carbon footprint.
“Delivering high-quality data to our clients in real-time has been a strategic priority. We are now able to deliver this data directly from the vessel to the clients’ office via high bandwidth satellite which can greatly accelerate our clients’ decision making,” says Eley. “By using data compression, satellite transmission and the cloud for optimized data processing we are able to demonstrate innovation, efficiency combined with reduced environmental impact.”
The old saying about necessity being the mother of invention finds proof in the way Polarcus has evolved the company and improved the marine seismic acquisition industry more broadly.
“When many companies were trying to increase efficiency through adding more streamers in the water, we disrupted that approach by deploying more energy resources which is much more efficient from the perspectives of imaging quality, fuel efficiency, CAPEX investment and health and safety exposure,” states Eley.
Polarcus has also innovated in its business model. In addition to the traditional marine acquisition global spot market, Polarcus, through close relationships with various national oil companies and service providers, has also been able to sell and charter several of its vessels and combine these arrangements with technical services agreements.
“Through these close relationships, we have been able to train personnel in our clients’ organizations and provide ongoing support of their seismic operations. Such a collaborative approach has been key to unlocking further opportunities in what would have been otherwise closed markets to Polarcus.”
What is next for Polarcus?
The application of new technologies, or applying existing technologies in new combinations, is opening up exciting possibilities for Polarcus going forward.
“Polarcus sees a very interesting opportunity in “hybrid” acquisition which combines the towed streamer technology that Polarcus provides with ocean bottom nodes,” Eley tells us. “Ocean bottom nodes is a sister marine seismic segment using more complex operations to deploy sensors on the ocean floor rather than towing them through the water. We see a number of operational synergies between towed streamer and node acquisition with the ultimate outcome that we can deliver our clients a seamless subsurface image over areas with obstructions or specific imaging challenges which ocean bottom nodes can help to unlock”.
This combination of towed streamer and ocean bottom nodes (OBN) provides the best-of-both technologies with high-quality subsurface images and a broader and more economical basin-wide view of the reservoir to provide accurate big picture context, in addition to a very detailed seismic image.
Indeed, that combination of big picture vision while still capturing the details is a perfect metaphor for how Polarcus works.