Oh Boo-Hoo! NSF to Sell Only Taxpayer-Funded Seismic Survey Vessel!

wambulance

 

Guest ridicule by David Middleton

Somebody call the wambulance!!!

From who else? The American Association for the Advancement of Science of America (homage to Dodgeball is intentional)…

Update: Despite protests, NSF plans to sell seismic research ship

By Paul Voosen Apr. 30, 2018 , 1:00 PM

Marine seismologists are decrying a move by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to sell off its only ship capable of imaging structures, such as the subduction zones that drive the largest earthquakes, deep beneath the ocean floor.

For the past few years, NSF has sought a new operating model for the R/V Marcus G. Langseth to close an annual $3.5 million funding shortfall that has forced the vessel to spend long periods docked. But no palatable fix has been forthcoming, the agency said earlier this month . That means the agency will sell the ship and require scientists to arrange their own surveys from the private sector while it seeks a long-term solution.

The sale amounts to a “loss of trust,” the leaders of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, which represents academics who use the ship, wrote in a letter to NSF on 26 April. The group argues the sale will penalize early-career scientists, who lack ties to the powerful seismic ships used by oil and gas companies, and slant research toward questions that these companies are seeking to answer. A sale should not proceed until a long-term solution is in place, they add, and NSF must continue to accept new funding proposals aimed at keeping the field alive.

[…]

Science (as in: She blinded me with)

The National Science Foundation, “with an annual budget of $7.5 billion (FY 2017), [is the] the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities,” gives hard-earned taxpayer dollars to academic researchers to do research that no one else is willing to pay for.  NSF can budget $10 million per year for the R/V Marcus G. Langseth… The vessel’s annual operating and maintenance costs run $13.5 million per year…

That means the agency will sell the ship and require scientists to arrange their own surveys from the private sector while it seeks a long-term solution.

The private sector clearly terrifies academics (no offense intended to my friends in academia… But I just love this clip from Ghostbusters.)

The group argues the sale will penalize early-career scientists, who lack ties to the powerful seismic ships used by oil and gas companies, and slant research toward questions that these companies are seeking to answer.

Tough schist!

The companies are paying geophysical contractors to conduct geophysical surveys because those surveys are used to find oil and gas (mostly).  There’s no slanting of research toward questions that these companies are seeking to answer.  It’s called “business”… Surely this is taught somewhere along the way in college… Isn’t it?

There was a time when many oil companies operated their own seismic crews.  Conoco (now ConocoPhillips) invented Vibroseis…

Geophysics

Seismic reflection surveying is the most widely used geophysical technique to explore for hydrocarbons.

(Author’s note:  Photos like this  usually entail maps, cross sections and workstation images that are totally unrelated and someone pointing randomly, while other people look on with Eureka! expressions.  One time, a previous employer wanted the company’s only female geoscientist to pose for a photo like this, but she declined to be used as a prop.  So a female Petroleum Landman sat in the chair holding the mouse… Fun stuff.)

Seismic Surveying

The collection of seismic data involves sending small acoustic pulses into the ground and measuring the sound waves that are reflected from the rock layers deep within the ground. These reflections are processed and formed into images of the subsurface using supercomputers. The technology is similar to the use of a sonogram in the medical field. The acoustic pulses are typically generated by vibrating the Earth with specially equipped trucks, a technology known as Vibroseis that was invented by ConocoPhillips about 50 years ago.

After gathering the seismic data and processing it into an image, 3-D computer models of the reservoir can be created. These detailed models allow our geologists and geophysicists to map the subsurface geology in great detail, helping us to better predict where oil and gas is located and determine where best to drill an exploratory well.

Offshore Seismic

Marine seismic surveys are conducted using specially equipped vessels that tow both the marine seismic source and the recording systems in the water behind the vessel. The recording systems typically consist of one or more sensor cables, known as streamers. The streamers are deployed just beneath the surface of the water and are usually towed a few hundred feet behind the vessel. The streamers can be up to 20,000 feet long.

The marine seismic source, usually an air gun, releases compressed air in pulses into the water column. The sound waves from these pulses travel down into the subsurface and are reflected from the rock strata to be recorded by the streamer systems. Marine seismic acquisition is not limited to the use of towed sensors or streamers. It is also possible to lay recording devices, known as geophones and hydrophones, on the sea bed and record data from energy generated by a separate source vessel. Sea-bed recording is usually used when water depth or infrastructure make acquiring a towed-streamer survey difficult.

[…]

ConocoPhillips

As recently as the late 1980’s, Conoco had its own Vibroseis crews.  However, there’s a simple reason why few, if any, private sector oil companies operate their own seismic crews: Money.

From the AAASA article…

Yet these days, thanks to tight NSF budgets, the Langseth typically has another view: a New York dockyard. Last year, it spent only 128 days at sea.

And much to their chagrin, marine seismologists may lose the services of the Langseth altogether. NSF is reviewing proposals, due on 21 August, that would deal with a $3.5 million gap between the $13.5 million cost of operating the ship and the $10 million that NSF is willing to pay. The Langseth has been in the crosshairs ever since 2015, when an influential “Sea Change” report—the ocean sciences decadal survey sponsored by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine—recommended that NSF trim its ocean infrastructure in favor of more research support. If an academic institution or consortium is willing to take over the ship and provide NSF with just $10 million worth of time—or if an institution can bring $3.5 million to the table to balance out the budget—then great, the agency says. If not, the ship will be sold off to the highest bidder, and the money will be used to procure ship time for marine seismology with third-party contractors. “It’s just not working with this current financial and ownership model,” says Richard Murray, NSF’s director of ocean sciences in Arlington, Virginia. “We end up in a situation where the ship is tied up at the dock and not being used in different ways.”

Science (as in: She blinded me with)

Seismic survey crews and vessels cost money to maintain and operate.  Oil companies rarely need continuous proprietary use of seismic survey crews and vessels.  When they do, they hire geophysical contractors to conduct the surveys.  Usually, they just license data already shot by marine contractors.  Nearly every square meter of the US offshore areas currently open to exploration and production (E&P) activities is covered by 2d and/or 3d seismic data.

Seismic survey crews and vessels are so expensive to maintain and operate that one of the largest geophysical contractors, WesternGeco, is exiting the acquisition side of the business.

Schlumberger To Exit Land, Marine Seismic Acquisition Business

Velda Addison Senior Editor, Digital News Group Hart Energy Friday, January 19, 2018

Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) has decided to exit the land and marine seismic acquisition business, which has been battered by the downturn and faces an uncertain future.

The business segment is the Houston-based company’s only product line that fails to meet future return expectations, according to Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard.

“This has not been an easy decision to make. But following a careful evaluation of the current market trend, our customers’ buying habits and our current and projected financial return, it is an unfortunate and inevitable outcome,” Kibsgaard said during the company’s earnings call on Jan. 19.

[…]

Schlumberger’s marine and land seismic acquisition services are offered through WesternGeco, which is part of the company’s reservoir characterization group. The group reported revenue of $1.6 billion for fourth-quarter 2017, down 8% sequentially and down 2% from a year ago.

The oilfield service company highlighted the strength of the group’s Integrated Services Management operations, contract awards and new technology deployments for the quarter. However, that was not enough to help solidify the land and marine seismic acquisition business’ place within the company.

Schlumberger reported about $3 billion of pretax charges for fourth-quarter 2017. This included more than $1.1 billion in seismic restructuring expenses related to WesternGeco and a $938 million write-down of holdings in Venezuela, which has been experienced economic and political turmoil.

[…]

Schlumberger isn’t the only one being challenged in today’s seismic environment as evidenced by the financials of others in the business.

CGG, for example, filed for bankruptcy in France and the U.S. in 2017 in a move to eliminate $1.95 billion in debt from its balance sheet. Global Geophysical Services filed for bankruptcy in 2016, its second time in two years. Seismic surveyor Dolphin Group filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

[…]

The exit comes as the industry continues to make technological strides such as advances in high-performance computing, data analytics and machine learning. Such technologies enable the company to “extract significantly higher value from our previously acquired data,” Kibsgaard said.

Schlumberger’s WesternGeco will adopt an asset-light model going forward based on its multiclient data processing and interpretation businesses, he said. The company plans to honor its existing contracts and customer commitments and cold stack equipment as it evaluates divestment options.

[…]

E&P Magazine

Private sector…

Schlumberger’s WesternGeco will adopt an asset-light model going forward based on its multiclient data processing and interpretation businesses, he said.

Government behaving like private sector…

The Langseth has been in the crosshairs ever since 2015, when an influential “Sea Change” report—the ocean sciences decadal survey sponsored by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine—recommended that NSF trim its ocean infrastructure in favor of more research support.

Academia behaving like academia…

The sale amounts to a “loss of trust,” the leaders of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, which represents academics who use the ship…

I love this bit from the AAASA article…

The R/V Marcus G. Langseth is a remarkable research ship. The 70-meter vessel, owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in Palisades, New York, can tow long chains of floating acoustic receivers, which catch seismic reflections off the ocean floor and the layers of marine sediments below it when an array of airguns are set off in the water. Using these reflections, researchers can build 3D pictures of structures like subduction zones, the regions where one tectonic plate dives below another, setting off large earthquakes and tsunamis in the process.

Science (as in: She blinded me with)

Who could have guessed?

  1. When marine airguns are used to map “structures like subduction zones, the regions where one tectonic plate dives below another, setting off large earthquakes and tsunamis in the process,” it’s a good thing… Clearly the loss of access to this taxpayer-funded boondoggle will lead to billions of deaths from volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis that could have been averted with just a little more money from the taxpayers.
  2. When marine airguns are used to map potential oil & gas accumulations, it kills whales [1][2].

In the furtherance of irony… When marine airguns are used to map subduction zones, it costs the taxpayers money… When marine airguns are used to find oil & gas under Federal waters, the taxpayers make money (well… at least the government does).

All Is Not Lost

One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my 37 years in this business, is that geophysical contractors are usually very obliging when it comes to providing seismic data to academic researchers.  If I had $1 for every time I’ve seen something like this in an academic research paper: Seismic data provided by [fill in the blank seismic contractor], I’d have a lot of dollars.

And then there’s “Free-d”… The National Archive of Marine Seismic Surveys.

About

Marine seismic reflection data acquired originally for purposes of oil and gas exploration within the US EEZ represent a national scientific resource of inestimable value. Recognizing the value of these data, the USGS is committed to preserving on behalf of the academic community and the nation data that may otherwise be lost, and to ensuring free and open access to that data.

High-quality seismic reflection data are essential to geological investigation of the offshore. To date, much of these data have been proprietary and available for publishable research only with significant restrictions. Although the commercial value of these data has diminished as a result of technological advances and offshore development moratoria, these data continue to have great relevance and value to current and future scientific research efforts. The value and risk of loss of these data was the subject of a 2002 National Research Council report “Geoscience Data and Collections: National Resources in Peril” by the Committee on the Preservation of Geoscience Data and Collections, Committee on Earth Resources.

Initially, a National Archive of Marine Seismic Surveys (NAMSS) was created to serve data collected by the USGS under the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) mapping programs between 1975 and the mid-1990s. In 2005, two large data owners, WesternGeco and Chevron, offered to transfer to the USGS more than 300,000 km of data off the US eastern, western, and Alaskan coasts for the purpose of making those data publicly available for research and educational purposes. These data were conventional 2D multichannel airgun seismic reflection acquired and processed according to standards of the mid 1970s and early 1980s. The surveys were generally limited to the continental shelf, extending up to 150 miles offshore.

More recently, the USGS has partnered with the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) to distribute data acquired since 1975 by BOEM for the purpose of assessing offshore resources. BOEM retains the regulatory authority to acquire and release Geological and Geophysical (G&G) data and information on the Outer Continental Shelf. The Code of Federal Regulations 30 CFR Parts 551 and 580 allow for the release of G&G data and information upon completion of the proprietary term for said data and information. For processed seismic reflection data that proprietary term is 25 years from the issuance of the G&G permit. Accordingly, data provided to BOEM from 1975 to 1990 are now eligible for public release on NAMSS.

Other contributors of data to NAMSS include British Petroleum (data from the North Slope of Alaska), and Pacific Gas and Electric, which has provided data that were collected offshore of Diablo Canyon, California in support of the re-licensing of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

USGS

The offshore seismic data acquired by the private sector under the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of these occasionally United States have to be made available, free of charge, to the public after a 25-yr proprietary period.

Now… The software, workstations and experience required to load and interpret the “Free-d” isn’t free… But access to the data is… Kind of analogous to the Second Amendment not providing free guns.

As usual… Any and all sarcasm and irony were purely intentional.

 

 

 

 

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Johanus

There are sufficient funds to keep this seismic program afloat. Just a matter of priority in allocation.
It’s too bad that the U.S. Republicans/Conservatives are not in charge of the U.S. Government.

Bernie

Can’t find 0.05% of your budget to save it? Your choice.

Trevor

Bernie ! 0.05%……………that HIRE (sic) than the CO2 level in the atmosphere !
.
I KNOW !!!

MarkW

It’s a fact of life, you can’t have everything that you want.
That 0.05% of the budget is already allocated to something else. What are you proposing to sacrifice so that they can continue to own this ship.
Regardless, nothing is being lost.

paulinfl

This is heart warming! GLOBULL WARMISTS have told so many falsehoods over my LIFETIME it’s my hope it’s just the beginning of COMMON SENSE application that will continue for decades to come.
PS GLOBULL WARMISTS can cry me a river for all I care!

“The group argues the sale will penalize early-career scientists, who lack ties to the powerful seismic ships used by oil and gas companies, and slant research toward questions that these companies are seeking to answer.”

In spite of the straw man distractions written into the article; it appears that what the academics fear most is having genuine experts seeing, analyzing, recording and archiving their data.
A) AAAS and Sciencemag try to mask the major facts that professional experts that rely upon accuracy for their income, should be major assets to inexperienced researchers.
B) AAAS and Sciencmag intimate that it requires insider relationships to schedule the survey ships.
* 1) It does not. It does require long term planning, scheduling and proper funding.
* 2) Professional survey ships are not interested in some researcher snagging a few hours of quickie surveys in some remote location; unless the researcher is willing to perform that survey as part of a survey ship’s established schedule. e.g. a quick survey sweep during transit from one scheduled survey to another scheduled survey.
C) AAAS and Sciencemag ignore the benefits of archived professional survey data from research. Especially when that data is available free to serious researchers.
* 1) Leaving us to wonder why research privacy and secrecy are so important? Are they essentially stating there is something to hide?
D) Scheduling a few days on a well maintained professional survey ship should be much cheaper than maintaining a NSF ship that spends long periods out of service and presumably mothballed, which also requires refit during activation.
E) There is a nagging unspoken question: Could part of the problem be that scheduling professional survey ships will require professional quality explanations for sites chose and surveys conducted.
* 1) AAAS and Sciencemag panicking implies that this researcher/experienced professional interaction must be avoided.
Which brings to mind:
Those that can, do. Professionals.
Those that can’t, teach. Academics.
Those that can’t teach, whine. AAAS and Sciencemag.

2hotel9

Perhaps all those “early career” scientists could just get jobs at oil and gas companies! Get out there in the real world and get some real experience. They could even pay off their college loans that way.

Tom in Florida

Yeah but then they would actually have to produce something and continue to produce in order to keep their job. That hardly seems fair to those who were counting on a life long government job.

2hotel9

Yep, there is always an inconvenient rub someplace!

… or counting on a lifelong university career, cushioned within a tenured professorial position teaching about the evils of fossil-fuel use to young, malleable minds funded by their affluent parents, who used all manner of fossil-fuel benefits to get their kiddies where they are.

I’m really not the old fart that I appear to be in my last opinion. Remember, I used to believe the deception, I used to give regularly to Green Piss (“Peace”). I studied dance, art, human performance, defied all the rules of a conservative parent’s expectations of a male child, … yet here I am saying what I am saying.

bonbon

When I was in the petroleum consulting sector (not a geologist) that data could be considered very valuable during the licensing proces. Data from multiple E&P firms had to be segregated for publication. Academics would not get the full shilling.
I am stunned by Schlumberger.
I doubt if that HPC data ends up in an Amazon EC3 cloud.

Kenw

it’s a French company. That may explain your being stunned. They are the largest services business purely in spite of themselves.

John Garrett

Academics are masterful spenders of OPM.

Mark from the Midwest

The private sector terrifies academics because the private sector often asks questions about the “value” and “goals” of research, questions that many academics are poorly equipped to answer in a concrete way.

juandos

Oh no! The grifters and rent seekers will have to find real jobs now. How humiliating and unfair is that?
😂😂😂

Killer Marmot

There is one problem with scientists using exploration data. Oil companies have no interest in recording below the basement — that is, where sedimentary rock ends and granite begin. Thus data might not be recorded long enough for research into subduction zones and the like.
They are, however, increasingly using “continuous recording”, where deep reflectors are captured whether they are needed or not. The problem is that such reflectors are extremely low amplitude, and their signal can be swamped by more recent shots.
Thus there might be a case for data specifically recorded for research purposes, where there is a very long interlude between shots.
Owning your own boat, however, sounds crazy. It’s extravagantly expensive. The acquisition companies can likely do it cheaper and better.

jorgekafkazar

Boat, n. a hole in the water that you shovel money into.

Tom Halla

Good post. It could be that the academics somehow feel that seismic searches done for finding evil fossil fuels somehow contaminates their pureness.

Just out of curiosity, I wonder what is the source of power that enables the boat to move? — an elite team of oarsmen (oarspeople, oarshumyns, whatever) ?

MarkW

They feed the crew beans, then back everyone up to an intake grill.

AllyKat

Graduate students.

2hotel9

I wonder who is going to buy it. USG equipment is so often poorly maintained that most likely it will sell at a loss. It appears there are plenty of entities out here capable of doing the work and for substantially less than USG has been spending, so this whole thing strikes me as a win/win. Tax dollars saved, private sector jobs created! Is there nothing which DJT can’t improve?!? 😉

It could be retired completely, mounted on a big ol’ pedestal, and relocated to a new national park as a monument dedicated to ending the sinful energy-consumption habits of us humyns.

Gary

Data collection is expensive so it’s important to wring out as much information from it as possible. How much acoustic data previously collected is awaiting additional analysis that has real value? For example, there are thousands of deep sea sediment cores collected since the 1960s, that rest in repositories and are available for further study. Why not the same for acoustic records?

AllyKat

It is amazing how much data is just sitting in libraries and storage rooms. I read several years ago that there are hundreds of thousands of Sumerian clay tablets in England (I cannot remember if they are at a museum or Oxford/Cambridge) that have never been fully examined. As in, no one has looked at them since they were first excavated, cataloged, and boxed. Translators wanted.

Jtom

Wait, let me boil this down as I see it: when researchers write a grant request to the NSF, instead of saying, “This research will require the use of the Seismic Survey Vessel for three days to map xyz using abc,” they will be proposing, “This research will require $125,000, to pay LMNO seismic survey company to map xyz using abc.”
The NSF saves money. The same research is performed. And the problem is…?

J Mac

David Middleton,
Thanks ! A very interesting and informative post!

RAH

“One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my 37 years in this business, is that geophysical contractors are usually very obliging when it comes to providing seismic data to academic researchers.”
They also share the geological data they get from their exploratory drilling. That is how geologists know how deep the flood basalts are in the Pacific North West. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of how oil and mining companies have advanced general geologic discovery and knowledge.

John Endicott

If the AAAS thinks maintaining a ship purely for their use, they why don’t they pony up the money for it. They could set up a gofund me page to raise the funds if needed.

RAH

The two happiest moments for a boat owner are:
1. When they buy the boat.
2. When they sell the boat.

LT

“Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) has decided to exit the land and marine seismic acquisition business, which has been battered by the downturn and faces an uncertain future.”
The primary reason that the Seismic business is having trouble is because of the revolution in fracking or unconventional plays, which does not depend on seismic acquisition and interpretation for picking drilling locations. And the majority of capital that is available for Oil & Gas Exploration projects is being directed towards these unconventional plays instead of finding a few million barrels here or there like the conventional methodology used to be employed. Instead, just raise a billion dollars and go frack a formation that exist under an entire county, the risk is so much lower, in terms of dry holes.

Jim Gorman

This appears to be a very good decision to me. It will force several academic institutions to come together and form partnerships in order to fund data acquisition. This will eliminate the occasions when one scientist at one institution uses taxpayers money to obtain data and then refuses to share it.

Sheri

I worked in seismic processing when we still had punch cards. My how things change.

Hollerith cards. I was so poor I’d scour the floor for comment, blank, spacer cards, etc. to fill out the packet.

paqyfelyc

well, you cannot have it all. Money either goes to “global warming” research, or to useful research.
a choice was made: CAGW first, Now live with it.

paulinfl

*crickets*

Might I suggest as a public relations effort that taxpayer funded research be available to the public and not be behind paywalls?

ripshin

Dave,
Haha…great call: AAASA. Love it!
I would think it makes sense to use a similar strategy adopted by the national labs in the nuclear industry. I can’t even count the number of NDAs and grant partnering requests we’ve processed in my company. Where it makes sense for us, and aligns with our long term goals, we participate. Where it doesn’t…well, either someone else will step in, or, the proposed project / research area will evaporate as unnecessary.
Btw, there’s another Dodgeball moment I noted recently. In the new Infinity Wars movie, I swear, I totally wanted Thanos to tell Stark, “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood.” 🙂
rip

Doug

Dave, good post.
“One time, a previous employer wanted the company’s only female geoscientist to pose for a photo like this, but she declined to be used as a prop. So a female Petroleum Landman sat in the chair holding the mouse”
My wife has lived with the distinction of being one of the the few blonde geologists working in Moslem countries. Every time there was a conference the local media would set up a cameras and lights to shoot across her for the standard audience scene.
Me, I worked on the last Citgo company owned seismic crew, a west Texas vibroseis outfit. We never did figure out if the data was so poor because of the in-house acquisition, or the in-house processing. Both went the way of in-house drilling rigs.

Gary Pearse

To think that the contractors will just look for what they want to find is an unbelievably silly thing for even a young geophysicist to say and very telling about the kind of education they are getting these days. Seismic doesn’t do that. It finds what’s there and the geophysicist has to interpret it! I can see the budjet is wasted for sure on the likes of such academic elites.

Gary Pearse

Should be academic lites.

Peter Lewis Hannan

“Who could have guessed?
When marine airguns are used to map “structures like subduction zones, the regions where one tectonic plate dives below another, setting off large earthquakes and tsunamis in the process,” it’s a good thing… Clearly the loss of access to this taxpayer-funded boondoggle will lead to billions of deaths from volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis that could have been averted with just a little more money from the taxpayers.
When marine airguns are used to map potential oil & gas accumulations, it kills whales [1][2].” To be fair, I think “structures like subduction zones, the regions where one tectonic plate dives below another, setting off large earthquakes and tsunamis in the process” is just badly written: the process it tries to refer to is subduction, not the use of marine airguns.

Jeff Alberts

Sounds like the perfect thing for a rich entrepreneur to fund privately.