Cameron Astill, VP Marketing Asia Pacific, Polarcus, Singapore
Cameron Astill, VP Marketing, Asia Pacific sets out Polarcus’ ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region. With its brand new fleet and client focused approach to its work, this new player has already secured a number of key contracts in the region. Astill comments on both the company’s strategy for growth and technical capability to deliver.
You arrived to fully establish the Singapore office in 2010; alongside that, what were the principal tasks you were assigned?
I joined Polarcus on the recommendation of my opposite number in Houston, Richard Price. He and our chief geophysicist, Phil Fontana are both hugely experienced. In particular, Mr. Fontana is one of the most esteemed geophysicists in the industry. I had worked with both these individuals through my previous positions in CGG Veritas. For this reason, when the opportunity arose to join Polarcus, I did so with relish. Following starting with the company my first duty was as mentioned to open the Singapore office.
Polarcus wanted to have marketing representation in each of the three major regions, with centers in London, Houston and here in Singapore. The major goals I was set included ensuring that Polarcus was known by all the operating oil companies in the region and to ensure that the company featured on every tender list issued. As a new player in the market at that point, Polarcus had almost finished building its new fleet, with six high specification 3D seismic vessels completed and delivered at that point in time. None of these vessels however were operating in Asia Pacific, so the first priority was to secure a contract which would allow an asset to be deployed here.
In this way, it was essential to ensure that oil companies were not only aware of Polarcus’ presence but also of capabilities and the differentiators that set us apart operationally.
Secondly, building an informal ‘intelligence’ network was a useful further step. This would allow us to know what is going on with regard to potential contracts, the strategies of our competitors and the like. The easiest way to start gaining this market awareness is simply interactions such as talking to competitors at trade shows.
Having been assigned these tasks, what was the degree of market penetration you expected to gain, and in what timescale; have there been any noteworthy steps forward in that time?
It took a year for Polarcus to become confident it was on around 95 percent of the tender lists being issued.
The first job in the region awarded to the company was for Reliance off the east coast of India, for our vessel Polarcus Alima. This was not a particularly large job, but was our first footprint in Asia.
We have also worked with Woodside, another business with which I have developed a personal professional relationship spanning 25 years. Woodside puts a great emphasis on trustworthy partners, and the Polarcus Alima completed a 13 month, continuous job for them across 2011/2012. It was the largest contract Polarcus had secured at that time. Following this, we have had a five month job which started in 2013 for Woodside.
Currently, market conditions in APAC are lumpy. Traditionally, this time of year is reasonable for seismic work, but Indonesia– normally a strong provider of contracts in this season- is currently proving to be a particularly difficult market and the Malaysian market this year has started very late. Lastly, due to whale migration season in Australia, little work is underway there at the moment either.
However we expect that the fourth quarter this year, and the first quarter next, will see a substantial increase in demand for seismic work and that this will be accentuated by the fact that many seismic vessels have been moved out of the region. I anticipate that Polarcus Alima will likely return in the fourth quarter to operate in this region.
At the moment, Polarcus’ would seek to have four vessels in the Atlantic corridor and two in Asia Pacific. I expect that the market will be more than capable of supporting this fleet next year.
In the Asia Pacific region, which new locations are proving of particular interest for the seismic industry at the moment?
The Great Australian Bight early next year will have three seismic vessels working there – it is a particular focus for the oil and gas industry right now. New Zealand too, is a notable new frontier. This country is a particular success story for Polarcus, with the company having worked there for the past two seasons.
One of the first jobs, in 2012/13 was a large survey in the Great South Basin for OMV, partnered with Shell and PTT. That part of the world is notorious for large swells at sea – sometimes up to eight meters. The operation however had very little weather downtime, minimal infill and Polarcus was able to acquire more than the original planned survey as operations came in under budget. The seismic is a geologists dream because the data quality is outstanding and highlights many interesting features under the seabed. The full results of this survey are still the be revealed with regard to any potential commercially exploitable hydrocarbon reserves.
At the end of 2013, we came back to New Zealand and acquired surveys for NZOG and OMV. In New Zealand, there is a very strong environmental ethic. The oil companies have rigorously adhered to environmental responsibility policies, and there in an endeavor to be good corporate citizens. Polarcus’ worldwide reputation for being an environmentally responsible company now precedes us and is one reason our business is able to secure contracts there. Furthermore Polarcus has been able to complete survey work with minimal disruption to the local natural heritage. This means that of the number of new jobs coming to tender in New Zealand, Polarcus is in a strong position to access these contracts.
Your long career has given you many personal and professional connections across the industry. To what extent can you catch customer’s eyes, and how now do clients view Polarcus?
Personal connections can get one’s foot in the door- but for a seismic company to succeed, one needs to deliver results.
Client’s expect companies to perform; at a minimum to get the job done without environmental or health and safety issues arising over the course of the work. Polarcus has developed a very good reputation for reliability and an excellent, environmental and HSE record. HSE statistics often feature in client companies KPIs – a solid record in this can help pad their back pockets.
Companies would also expect flexibility from the seismic surveying company, with regard to their contractual, operating and geophysical requirements. This is difficult, particularly when moving from one project straight to another as any downtime will start consuming the surveying company’s margins immediately.
Demonstrating innovative means of acquiring data; either saving money or getting more data acquired in less time, or improving the quality of data, can attract customers too. As the office in Singapore expands, an area geophysicist will join the business here. He will work with oil companies to help design their surveys to optimize their geophysical objectives, maximizing the value of any survey to the client company.
The best contracts for a company such as Polarcus are the difficult projects, where we can provide a solution for our client through flexible and proactive means of working. Delivering innovative solutions and more comprehensive results than the customer may have expected- this is the way we highlight the value in the Polarcus brand.
Can you describe some examples of technical innovation that are pushing your company forwards?
Geophysical excellence is very much what drives seismic companies forward- it is the best attribute to have in order to differentiate one’s company.
Broadband technology is the technology that is creating a great hubbub in the industry at the moment. Polarcus’ offering is called RIGHTBAND™ and all our competitors have their own respective broadband technologies. In my opinion, clients are still adjusting to what the implications of their various offerings are for their company. Fundamentally, it means that one gets more data for the bandwidth than one was receiving before. RIGHTBAND™ is not a proscriptive term, however, in the way that broadband is. A number of our competitors market their broadband solutions solely on their technical capabilities rather than marketing the technology as part of a suite of systems or on what it actually can offer to the client, whereas Polarcus seeks to establish what solution is the correct one for any job from a client-orientated perspective.
Polarcus does not seek to come from a ‘top down’ perspective, but a ‘bottom up’ one. Longer term, this is a much more useful strategy. What Polarcus delivers technology wise is the highest possible signal, with the lowest possible noise across the broadest bandwidth of seismic technology available, but it is how we deliver that information to the client which is key. However, the solution we deliver will always be context specific- it is what we deliver to the clients that is key.
New technology is something Polarcus is always considering. Now, we are looking at multi-sensor streamers for example, but this is still in its infancy- motion sensors in water are difficult to utilize as streamers move around a great deal.
Where contemporary efforts to produce better data are focusing is not so much data produced from high frequencies, but on low frequencies. This is for a number of reasons. Broadband means utilizing as many octaves as possible whilst operating; the more octaves the higher the fidelity of the data. Low frequencies offer more scope for increasing this range. Use of lower frequencies is true broadband technology, and helps with modelling and inversion- techniques that oil companies typically use to choose where to drill.
The biggest, and most forward-looking project that Polarcus is working on at the moment however is under ice 3D acquisition. As the Arctic opens up, more companies are gathering data there. Our company is looking at different means of towing 3D streamers under ice. Polarcus, with a fleet of Arctic ready vessels is one of the few companies who can really take this technology forward. The Artic market is very active today, and this new under-ice market will become a significant component in the future- Polarcus is positioning itself today to capitalize on this growth.
What are Polarcus’ ambitions with regard to multi-client data provision in the region?
One of the keys to success in multi-client work is to have a pipeline of available projects that are being developed and sold consecutively. Furthermore, it is useful to have a boat seeking proprietary work close to where one is undertaking multi-client work. This is because whilst multi-client operations are run on the seismic company’s timetable, proprietary work is run on the client’s timetable. If, for example one can move a boat from a multi-client operation to a proprietary one to take advantage of an opportunistic opening, this can save the company a great deal in mobilization costs.
Polarcus has significant multi-client ambitions and has recently appointed a multi-client senior vice president, Stephen Doyle, in Dubai. His job is to rapidly increase the business’ multi-client portfolio as the objective is to derive a significant proportion of our total revenue from multi-client work. Multi-client work is where Polarcus sees some of the best opportunity for growth, but APAC is a difficult multi-client market because there are a number of countries where it is not a viable business model due to the local context- Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam for example. As with any area where we operate, with multi-client we strive to deliver the best service in the industry.
Lastly, Polarcus seeks to underscore its environmental record as a means of differentiating itself in the market. Can you expand on this?
This is a central part of the manner in which we do business. Our X-BOW vessels are up to 30 percent more efficient in a head sea according to the designers. They are efficient and quiet through the water due to their streamlined shape, but this also means that there is less noise introduced into the seismic recordings. As such, a number of geophysists have informed us our data is the quietest and cleanest they have seen.
This design efficiency also means the boats are more efficient in terms of fuel costs, which is of key note with fuel being one of the principal costs in seismic exploration activity. Polarcus burns marine diesel oil –specifically low sulphur brands- which typically cost a great deal more than alternatives, but the efficiency of our boats means that this expense is negated and they operate in a much cleaner manner.
Another way that Polarcus reduces its environmental impact is by eliminating any nitrous oxide emissions from its vessels, whilst our competitors burn heavy fuel oil- which has a great many carcinogenic toxins in it. For this reason, a number of jurisdictions have already prohibited heavy fuel oil’s use, and the area where it is banned is likely to increase. Polarcus is here well ahead of the trend.
Our fleet also has advanced technology to treat its ballast water, to eliminate the risk of transferring and releasing harmful organisms into the environment. Lastly, all our vessels are double hulled which reduces any risk of a fuel spill. In fact, Polarcus is the only seismic company worldwide to have had its vessels qualified by DNV-GL with the Triple-E™ classification for energy and environmental efficiency. In order to build confidence into a company’s ‘green tag’, the information required by DNV-GL for Triple-E™ must be based on reliable and verifiable facts and an independent verification of a ship’s environmental performance. Polarcus has achieved their highest ‘Level 1’ rating for the company’s fleet. The company believes this will become increasingly important as it is anticipated that, in the future, vessels with a documented environmental performance will also qualify for incentive schemes and other related initiatives from ports and local administrations.