These vessels and crew were put to the test this summer during a 12-week 3D seismic survey in Baffin Bay, about 600 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle off the coast of western Greenland, commencing operations in late July and completing the work two and a half months later, in mid-October.
The cold hard truth about working in the Arctic; freezing equipment is a constant challenge; ice can force vessels to veer off track; and drifting ice can damage both the vessel and the equipment.
Polarcus not only has some of the most environmentally responsible seismic vessels in the industry, it has the only ICE-1A/ ICE-1A* class fleet in the world. The vessels – Polarcus Asima, Polarcus Samur, and Polarcus Amani – can operate in first-year ice of up to one-meter thickness without the assistance of icebreakers; they are ice-reinforced with thicker ribs and skin plates; have de-icing and ice-preventing systems at critical tanks and pipelines, and their propellers, gears and thrusters can withstand operations in ice. In short, they are Arctic-ready.
“Polarcus vessels can mitigate many of the everyday hazards of working in the Arctic and enable us to safely and responsibly make the most of the short Arctic operating season,” says Peter Zickerman, Executive Vice President of Polarcus.
The two 3D projects, totaling approximately 10,000 square kilometers in size, were located roughly 600 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, 100 to 180 kilometers off the west coast of Greenland, in an area covered by seasonal sea ice and subject to glacier calving in the summer season. Of all northern icebergs, 85% originate from the more than 100 glaciers of West Greenland, and between 10,000 and 15,000 icebergs are calved each year in the area where the surveys are located. During this period the area was to a greater or lesser extent always affected by ice, comprising bergs, bergy bits and growlers, and an Ice Management Plan was key to the safety and efficiency of the operations. The detection of ice in all its forms in the survey area, the prediction of its movement, and the identification and tracking of ice that may pose a hazard to the 3D streamer spread, reaching 6 kilometers in length, or that may cause an interruption to a survey line in progress, is a critical aspect of the management of a towed-streamer 3D operation in Arctic waters. Although 3D seismic acquisition will only take place in ice-free, or possibly bergy water conditions, the Arctic qualities of the vessel enables it to move through ice on her way to and from the survey area, or remain in icy areas waiting for the ice to clear, increasing the operational window of the vessel. It’s thanks to this sophisticated arctic ready design that the project recorded a very low technical downtime – less than 3%.
The Ice Management Plan implemented by Polarcus involved the integration of data from numerous remote information sources, such as daily ice reports from Governmental agencies, commercial satellite imagery and ice prediction services. Supplementing this data, and of paramount importance in the plan, were the active ice monitoring functions implemented on each vessel in the operation, including enhanced ice detection radar systems, one or more human specialist ice observers on the support vessels, and at least two ice “navigators” on each of the seismic vessels.
In addition to the ice monitoring, another monitoring program was in place for marine mammal impact mitigation throughout the duration of the project. Each of the deployed vessels had marine mammal observers on-board, keeping visual look-out for the presence of marine life in the vicinity of the operations, as well as being equipped with passive acoustic monitoring systems to detect any mammal vocalizations in the surrounding waters. Operating permit restrictions in the area are based around migration times, and seismic operations excluded from protected zones and reserves, the monitoring measures in place ensured that minimal to no impact occurred to marine life during the project, and no environmental impact incidents were recorded.
The logistical challenges of the Arctic project included the management and control of a total of twelve vessels and over 300 personnel, provision of fuel, food, spare parts and consumables, and the preparation of emergency response procedures. Limited commercial transport was available in the project area and therefore specialized transport was arranged, including shuttle tankers to provide fuel and helicopters for crew changes and Medevac support. However, as helicopter availability could not be guaranteed, flying operations are often disrupted due to poor weather conditions, and crew changes involving over one hundred or more individuals were scheduled to take place every five to six weeks, the preferred mode of transport from the shore to the survey area was by one of the support vessels. All crew changes during the project were carried out this way, safely and efficiently, and no incidents were recorded.
The success of the 2012 Greenland program has proved that there are no barriers of entry to this region, and by performing its work cleaner and greener than ever before, Polarcus continues to set new standards in the seismic industry. Despite the complexity and challenges of conducting safe and successful marine 3D seismic operations in ice-prone Arctic waters, zero recordable incidents were experienced, with no significant harm to personnel, marine life, vessels or equipment. The operational impact on the Arctic environment was minimized as a result of Polarcus’ decision to incorporate an environmental impact mitigation agenda into its core business strategy from the company’s inception, and the application of the associated principles, technology and procedures during this project.