Focus on the Future
Like many others, companies and personnel engaged in seismic exploration activities have experienced extreme human and economic challenges since early 2020, many due to the seemingly never-ending waves of viral infections that have plagued the world’s populations but also from the consequential responses and continual attempts to curtail the viral spread.
Apart from the health implications in trying to keep everyone alive, safe, and well, these challenges have extended to just being able “to find” suitable employees to construct seismic field crews, challenges that are compounded in the face of the array of different regional rules, prohibitions, mandates, lockdowns, testing, and restrictions to which they have been subjected.
Notwithstanding that for economic and logistical reasons, they drive with 4 or more in a truck and sleep 2 to a room, “Social Distancing” usually isn’t a problem for seismic workers as they are often sent to work in the most remote of inhospitable environs and rarely see any other living thing during their daily routine. Masks too are not usually a problem as any layer of protection against the biting sub-zero winds could be considered positive.
There are other well-understood systemic problems beyond these however, that apply to the seismic industry due to the seasonal restrictions allowing work only under frozen or dry ground conditions and within the strict environmental work windows that are outside of, for example, Caribou calving and migratory bird nesting times, which usually excludes the months from April to September.
So, attracting and retaining employees has become a serious problem that could be improved, if not resolved, if ways could be found to explore year-round, whilst incurring minimal impact on other humans, other species, their habitats, and the environment generally with a “stealth seismic” solution. In so doing, permanent seismic careers could replace the temporary fill-in seasonal jobs currently offered.
I believe that there are significant opportunities to use seismic exploration tools and technologies to uncover this planet’s hidden secrets and to detail the sub-surface and sub-marine realms that remain to this time, still mostly unexplored. This exploration could reveal unmapped resources, structures, and geo-processes that could positively benefit humankind well into the future.
This work, which is inherently temporary and singular by nature, could be conducted in the Spring & Summer months on existing roads, trails, and other accessible corridors or in areas being cleared for other vital commercial activities. It could use only low and minimal-impact vehicles & equipment thus avoiding or minimizing environmental impacts
An example of such previous seismic exploration as part of national research into earth sciences studies was the hugely successful Lithoprobe programs that were conducted in the past, mostly on existing corridors, as a partnership between Industry, Government & Academia. More information can be found at Lithoprobe (ubc.ca). It was funded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada and the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC).
Similar programs could be conducted today with transects to fill in the gaps and continue the coverage to improve our knowledge advantaged by the vastly improved cable-less seismic source, nodal sensor, and processing technologies that are now available. Costs would be competitive compared to yesteryear; however, funding, investment, and leadership remain the big challenge but, in my mind, achievable.
Governments invest astronomically in space exploration; we need the same focus on our planet. Both Hubble & James Webb Telescopes are focused on the past, perhaps we need similar investment to focus on the future.
I expect many people in the Geophysical world were very absorbed in the exciting launch and deployment of the James Webb Telescope at Christmas and as it made its way to shielded coordinates in space at one of the LaGrange points, L2. This telescope will, I believe prove to be an exploration tool that improves our comprehension of space and our understanding of the Universe, following the success of the Hubble Telescope. Webb's Launch GSFC/NASA.
To expect private companies to bear the full weight of the financial burden and be solely exposed to the high risks with these types of exploratory ventures; is probably unreasonable and is why it is important for Government agencies to be involved. Notably, as carried in the press reports of February 9th, 2022 “SpaceX to lose up to 40 “Starlink” satellites after a geomagnetic storm - Elon Musk’s firm says 80% of the satellites it launched last week are expected to burn up instead of reaching orbit”.
I applaud Government agencies e.g. NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) & CSA (Canadian Space Agency) for providing the financial backing for such ventures; as is also the case with investments into fledgling and transitioning industries and recognize that the Oilsands development would not have created the Alberta Energy industry that we know today if not for Government foresight & early support going back to the days of Ernest Manning. We can thank the social and economic benefits that have since flowed to the people of all Provinces & Canada for this investment, commitment, and leadership.
Along these same lines, the CAGC was recently granted funding from the Alberta Government to conduct a labour market research project to Identify the seismic sector’s critical human resource issues, provide a complete understanding and assessment of effective strategies to address recruitment and retention, and examine workforce demand and supply as well as training and retraining.
This is part of $1.53-million investment under the Workforce Partnership program that will support 16 such projects, some in the Energy industry, related to economic growth and diversification, and to build a skilled and diverse workforce.
We invite any CSEG members with HR expertise or innovative ideas on this topic, to reach out to us if they can assist in this research that will take place over the next few months with surveys, interviews, and the production of a final report.
We also invite any companies or individuals with an interest in seismic to consider joining the CAGC as we navigate through these challenging times. Membership application information can be found at CAGC - Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors