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Oil Field Services Gain from Advanced Technologies/Face Revenue Decline and Layoffs in 2015-2016, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The oil field services industry has benefited enormously from its ability to harness new technologies.  Both onshore and offshore, the use of advanced seismic technologies and horizontal drilling with pinpoint accuracy have dramatically improved drilling results.  Offshore, subsea templates that allow drilling and production of dozens of remote wells, as much as 15 miles apart, from one underwater base, provide production efficiencies undreamed of a few years ago.  Pipeline and transport systems are advancing at the same time.  For example, it is now common to deliver oil from a subsea well straight to a pipeline system without ever bringing it to a ship or platform on the ocean’s surface.
Geophysicists are using high-powered computer workstations to analyze seismic data in three-dimensional, color-coded views that show oil- and gas-producing structures never seen before.  Drilling success rates are up substantially.  An enhanced 4-D system adds the dimension of time to geologists’ seismic view of evolving underground formations.  Exploration companies utilizing 3-D and 4-D seismic data typically find productive wells more than 70% of the time, compared to 40% with older methods.
Many of these technologies, however, are only refinements of techniques that were discovered many years ago.  One very promising technology uses electromagnetic waves (instead of sound) to map features of the earth far below the surface.  Instead of mapping density and solidity, as sound does, electromagnetic waves map resistance to electricity.  Because oil has a fairly unique electromagnetic signature, maps made with these waves can be incredibly accurate.  This technology works well in salt water, so it is appearing in deep-sea explorations.  Some firms are performing airborne electromagnetic surveys using aircraft.  ExxonMobil was one of the first innovators of this technology, calling it Remote Reservoir Resistivity Mapping, or R3M.  Another, much smaller company, ElectroMagnetic GeoServices ASA (, has developed its own version of electromagnetic exploration called marine EM that promises to make this new field very competitive.
Much of the research and development (R&D) investment that is moving the oil and gas industry ahead occurs in the laboratories and engineering offices of the oil field services firms, rather than at the exploration and production companies.  Once oil field services firms create new hardware, software or downhole tools that have promise, they are then able to sell these tools and services to oil companies large and small.

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