Deepwater surveying

-- FROM THE FULL PICTURE MAGAZINE -- Since entering the industry over 25 years ago, Bill Bridges, the manager of AUV operations at geophysical services pioneer Fugro GeoServices, has seen the definition of deepwater change dramatically from 1000 feet then to up to 5000 feet and beyond now. The tools in the company's arsenal have increased as well, but the name behind many of them – including the HUGIN 3000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) – remains the same: KONGSBERG.

Fugro GeoServices specialises in marine geohazards data acquisition, pipeline route surveys, archaeological surveys and related geohazard consulting and permitting services, primarily for the oil and gas industry. While the 140-person company is headquartered in Houston, the geophysical surveying is mostly run out of the Lafayette, Louisiana office, where Bridges is based.

Bridges joined John E. Chance and Associates in 1981, and this company was part of the 1991 merger with Holland-based Fugro, that subsequently created Fugro GeoServices and Fugro-Chance (the positioning group). He's held the roles of Geophysical Shop Supervisor and Geophysical Technical Coordinator before taking his current position.

Bridges' working relationship with Kongsberg/Simrad equipment began during the early days at John E. Chance. In the early 1980s, they became one of the first companies to acquire Simrad's 209 and 309 HPR (Hydroacoustic Position Reference) equipment. Additional Kongsberg Maritime purchases such as EA 500 fathometers, scanning sonars, the SM 2000 and EM 2000 multibeam sonars, and HiPAP 350 and 500 acoustic positioning systems, along with other improved surveying tools, have helped make it possible for the company to greatly reduce its fleet size – from owning 15 vessels and leasing another 10–15 to the four survey vessels Fugro GeoServices owns today.

While Chance had built up quite a reputation in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) area for its surveying work for major oil companies, Fugro was more of an unknown commodity in the region at that time. Not anymore.

"Now Fugro is a brand name that means a lot to people," says Bridges. "When Fugro acquired John E. Chance, it was possible to buy sonars and other surveying and seismic equipment. The real asset was to get such a large number of talented people together across the globe." Today the publicly held Fugro Group of companies consists of over 12,000 employees in over 50 countries, making it much larger than many of its competitors, the majority of which are privately owned.

Such an international presence allows Fugro GeoServices to mobilise very quickly, and share resources, software developments and people across the Fugro company line. While Fugro GeoServices has the Gulf of Mexico as its primary geographic area of responsibility, they still have the ability to travel almost anywhere. Recent projects in which GeoServices has assisted the Fugro Group internationally include a cooperation in Australia with Fugro Perth, and another survey in West Africa with Fugro Surveys Ltd - Aberdeen.

Unparalleled knowledge of the GoM

To give an idea of the scope and scale of Fugro's success in the region, one need only mention the Gulf of Mexico database. Over a 50-year period, and in cooperation with oil and gas operators in the region and the Federal Mineral Management Service, Fugro has complied what is viewed as the most comprehensive private database of wells, pipelines and hazards in the GoM. And Fugro itself has actually carried out the as-built surveys on over 50% of the pipelines contained here.

Fugro GeoServices' work for very large oil and gas companies tends to fall under the "front-end" banner, meaning hazard and archaeological surveys before any deepwater drilling and development activity takes place, along with pipeline survey work. The company has carried out such surveys with water depths from 10 feet to over 7,000 feet. The deeper the water, the more sophisticated the tools are, with HUGIN AUV involvement usually from around the 2,000-foot depth and beyond.

With over 200 different oil and gas companies based in the GoM, extremely high oil and gas prices, and large deepwater lease sales of late in the Central Gulf, it doesn't appear as if the work will be drying up anytime soon. One of Fugro GeoService's four survey vessels recently completed a 45-day AUV survey – one of the largest to date.

Fugro Enterprise and the HUGIN 3000: A perfect fit

Fugro Survey Ltd. in Aberdeen had already purchased and deployed a HUGIN 3000 AUV with great success in 2005, and with the goal of upgrading their vessels and the sharing of best practices amongst Fugro's survey companies, a corporate decision was made to purchase another HUGIN 3000 for Fugro GeoServices in 2006.

Bridges and three other members of GeoServices' AUV team travelled to Horten, Norway, in autumn 2006 to observe the project start-up and receive extensive product training. The team worked closely with Fugro Survey Ltd. and Kongsberg Maritime personnel for up to 9 weeks during this period. Afterwards, Fugro's Highland Eagle vessel was used to carry out installation and acceptance testing in the Oslo Fjord; successful deepwater testing took place onboard a Fugro GeoServices vessel in the GoM along with Fugro Survey Ltd. and Kongsberg Maritime staff.

Kongsberg provides 24/7 AUV assistance to the field crews if needed, and Bridges is quick to point out that Fugro GeoServices communicates with the Kongsberg AUV group often and appreciates the service provided. Luckily, however, any problems have been minimal.

"The HUGIN has the best dive duration on the market, and it pretty much worked right out of the box. We bought this one ‘ready to go'," says Bridges, who summed up the final steps of the transaction involving the technically superior vehicle in the most uncomplicated of ways: "We stayed there, packed it up, put it on a ship, and went home."

Now in place on the Fugro Enterprise, the HUGIN AUV is equipped with a multibeam echosounder, side scan sonar and sub-bottom sensors capable of working for up to 60 hours continuously in water depths of up to 10,000 feet. Near real-time survey data available onboard, combined with the newbuild's HSE systems, workspace and accommodations, allows Fugro GeoServices to provide the most efficient and cost-effective AUV survey work available.

HUGIN facts

  • The HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUVs) can locate small objects underwater where other technologies do not stand a chance
  • The industry standard for AUV-based offshore oil and gas surveying, HUGIN AUVs have covered a collective distance of more than 120,000 kilometres on the seabed for offshore survey companies in the run-up to development of a majority of the world's deepwater oil fields
  • HUGIN AUVs have also been greatly utilised by the Norwegian and Finnish Navies for assisting in mine-hunting operations