Saudi Aramco to use autonomous subsea seismic acquisition fleet for Red Sea exploration

Saudi Aramco plans to use 200 of its Spice Rack autonomous subsea seismic acquisition units, created in collaboration with EXPEC ARC, Seabed Geosolutions and other partners, in its Red Sea ocean bottom survey.

Spice Rack will be used by Saudi Aramco to conduct seismic ocean bottom surveys in the Red Sea
Spice Rack will be used by Saudi Aramco to conduct seismic ocean bottom surveys in the Red Sea

Saudi Aramco is venturing into the Red Sea after discovering large quantities of gas in early March. As part of its exploration efforts, the company will use 200 of its autonomous subsea seismic acquisition units, called Spice Rack, to conduct a seafloor pilot seismic survey in the next two months.

"This will be the first time in the industry where 200 [autonomous underwater vehicles] will be employed to conduct a seismic ocean bottom survey," said Abdulmohsen Al Ali, a geophysicist with Saudi Aramco, on the sidelines of the Middle East Oil & Gas Show (MEOS) in Bahrain. "[The Red Sea] is unexplored and much more challenging, we don't have the ocean bottom data yet." 

The technology was displayed at MEOS in Bahrain, and Saudi Aramco says it can result in a 30% cost reduction as it reduces the manpower and time traditionally needed to survey subsea environments.

Typically, oil and gas companies would use sensorised nodes, towed by a boat via rope or cable driving in a zig zag formation. This is a time consuming process, and Saudi Aramco says Spice Rack technology could make the process 60% faster.

The submersibles travel underwater, unmanned, and use acoustics to communicate with one another and reposition themselves if they are too close to one another. Spice Rack's battery can last for up to 70 days underwater, meaning they can be stored underwater, in cage-like structures, while some data is analysed onshore. This could reduce time, as they would require less charginga

Spice Rack is a patented technology developed to the specifications and needs of Saudi Aramco in tandem with EXPEC ARC, Seabed Geosolutions and other partners. In its initial pilot, 20 Spice Rack submersibles were used in the Arabian Gulf, where Saudi Aramco is used to operating and the terrain is familiar.

Initially, the aim was "to reach the level of conventional methods," said Al Ali, noting that the pilot was a success. In current and future trials, the oil and gas titan hopes to see Spice Rack technology improve the quality of data acquired in comparison to traditional methods. Ultimately, it aims for this to become the norm for ocean bottom surveys.

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