A Seismic Revolution: Quality Driven Technology

Bruce Marion, Z-Seis Reservoir Imaging
Diane Elko, Improve It! Consulting & Training
Z-Seis Corporation, recognized worldwide as the authority in cost-effective crosswell seismic, accepts the authority to build expertise in another field of interest to many—Quality Management.  Z-Seis offers a unique service, imaging technology that can resolve reservoir structures and properties with unprecedented detail.  This same level of detail is what many strive to achieve in order to be successful in their daily business operations and when attempting to implement process improvement methods.  The journey to implementation of an excellent quality management system parallels the same rigorous approach used within the scientific model at Z-Seis, a model that helps oil and gas companies solve reservoir problems.

Learn how the innovators of an extraordinary imaging technique, a technique refined by this team since 1992 and first commercially viable in 1998, master the techniques to structure many complex processes into a well-oiled management system (based on ISO 9001:2000).  Much of the discoveries of this company are easily applied to any “complex” industry aspiring to reach the next levels of customer satisfaction, productivity and performance.  What different and new approaches did they use to stay ahead in the game, a game that demands the flexibility of creativity, and at the same time, is based on the tools of the sciences that are the basis for their business?

In one year, Z-Seis, a reservoir information and seismic imaging company, registered its quality system to ISO 9001:2000, and learned how to be successful using process improvement methods.  How did they manage to simplify and standardize the system they use to collect, record, analyze and report the results to their clients?  How did they establish control over the plethora of records and data required to provide superior reservoir information through advanced bore-hole seismic technology—information and data detailed enough and dependable enough to dramatically enhance hydrocarbon recovery from even the most complex formations?

Selling the ISO 9001 standard to management was easy since the President was “on board” from day one and clients were responsive to the ISO initiative.  Selling to the technical team was more of a challenge since they were already “busy enough” performing their everyday responsibilities and they did not need anything “extra” on their plates.  Once these players recognized the need to establish a system for business improvement, finding and “re-affirming” the linkages between what they do as scientists within their seismic-focused efforts and what they needed to do as “improvement specialists,” they were off and running. The primary goal became laying the foundation of how to use their continual learning attitude so that everyone in the company (including the production team out in the field) understood the market, the customers, the vision and mission, and what role they played in achieving the company’s quality objectives.

In this paper, you will learn from both the innovators and leaders at Z-Seis whose keen understanding of the business enabled Z-Seis to apply their knowledge and reach a seismic revolution of sorts, and the quality management consultant whose understanding of motivation, metrics, standardization and problem-solving, prepared them for the continual improvement journey—a journey that would keep them at the top in the competitive games of the reservoir seismic industry.

What’s So Unique about Z-Seis and Reservoir Seismic?

The Consultant’s Viewpoint:
The business world of the seismic/geophysical services provided by Z-Seis is not so different from any other complex product design and manufacturing entity, except for one thing–science. Yes, the nature of the scientific community revolves around the experimental method and relies upon objective evidence to confirm that results have been achieved.  You may ask, “Isn’t this really what a quality management system is based upon?”  Of course it is, however the means of getting there is focused differently in manufacturing, by accepting a commonly identified and agreed upon structured approach as the sole way to achieve an end result.

Within the scientific community, creativity is more apparent as it guides the design and structure from the start and the scientist seeks a variety of ways, using many different methods and tools, geophysics and data processing to reach the end result or so-called objective evidence.  The guideposts in the scientific community are not as clearly laid out, as within a manufacturing company where a well-defined part supported by the appropriate mechanics and logistics is the only outcome.  In reservoir seismic, the approach and structure are somewhat designed as the discovery and data acquisition process proceeds, with many intricate variables evaluated during each stage of the data processing.  Decisions are not easily made among scientists, not only because of these complexities but also because of personality issues.  Scientists are entrepreneurial, very attentive to all of the details, and basically very proud of their capabilities, thus making the decision-making process even more difficult.  Individual assessment and decision-making are more common than the team approach. The biggest challenge was to help them to understand and accept the value of each employee’s input into their complex processes.  These are some of the accepted complexities demonstrated in getting a scientific-based company ISO certified.

On the other hand, what a delight it is to work with the scientist/manager who already understands the importance of measurement and does not see metrics as a “necessary evil”.  What a delight it is to not have to work so hard to convince the team that a management system and process approach toward continual improvement is valuable, that customer feedback is valuable, and that structure, control and standardization are valuable.

What’s So Unique about Reservoir Seismic?

The Scientist’s Viewpoint:
Reservoir Seismic is a business but it relies upon cutting edge data acquisition and processing. Crosswell seismic is the next step in the seismic revolution.  3-D surface seismic data is used by the Exploration and Production (E&P) companies to find new reservoirs.  3-D surface seismic has made possible the discovery of many new resources such as deepwater oil and gas reservoirs around the world.  Surface seismic sees the reservoir – crosswell seismic due to its enhanced resolution sees inside the reservoir.  As few new fields remain to be found even in remote areas of the world, the industry’s new challenge is to get more oil out of reservoirs that have already been discovered.  Surface seismic data does not provide the detail necessary to solve this challenge.  Crosswell seismic allows the reservoir technologist to see INSIDE the reservoir by providing 10 times the resolution of surface seismic data.

To achieve this revolutionary insight inside the Reservoir, Z-Seis has advanced the science of geophysics in a number of areas:

(1)  Powerful seismic energy sources that can operate deep inside the earth based on patented Z-Seis technology

(2)  Imaging innovations to deal with data of an unprecedented scale of resolution

(3)  Seismic data logging technology for enhanced efficiency, cost-effectiveness and operability in hostile environments deep in the earth.

To implement so much new technology, Z-Seis has operated with a business model of providing all the services, from survey planning including data acquisition and data processing and finally interpretation and integration.  Putting so much new science into practice has required implementing a well-documented and proactive system for operations.  ISO provides the framework for such an approach.  Rather than being something additional, our quality system is integral in the implementation process at Z-Seis.  The benefits for our rapidly growing, high-tech company include:

(1)  Our quality system is a differentiator.  Oftentimes small, science-based technology companies in the oilfield service sector do not provide organized and effective operations, leaving clients with a less than satisfactory experience despite the advantages of new technology.  Our structured processes get us close to the precise delivery mechanisms used in large ISO qualified companies for standard services.  Therefore, our clients get the best of both:  technology AND service, from a small, highly-motivated organization.

(2)  Our quality system postures us for rapid growth.  Training and standardized operations are integral parts of the quality system and allow for expansion into widespread international operation.

(3)  The quality system serves to organize all of our internal systems.  Health Safety and Environment (HSE) are critical to Z-Seis and our clients. Our HSE system is integrated within our overall quality system and safety audits by major oil companies have given high marks to this integrated approach.

(4)  As we apply crosswell seismic in new applications, we rapidly adapt the technology to fit the needs of the client.  ISO provides the framework for incorporating the improved technology while tempering the temptation to introduce the technology before it is ready.

(5)  Most importantly our quality system aids acceptance of our new technology by clients.  The E&P industry with its high levels of investment is cautious in adopting new technologies.  Having an organized process makes fitting our new technology and service into our client’s systems a more seamless process. Of course, ISO qualified oil and gas companies much prefer dealing with an ISO-qualified vendor like Z-Seis.

Overall, we were motivated to implement an ISO compliant quality system, but it was a bit scary.  Would we slow our rate of progress, or lose the ability to deliver exceptional technology in a pile of paperwork?  The answer has been that the process of becoming certified was really more a matter of adding a bit of rigor to the processes we already had in place and the benefits listed above have made it a compellingly good business decision for Z-Seis.

The Customer’s Viewpoint:
Using advanced technology requires a trusting relationship between customer and supplier.  Z-Seis has witnessed the value of building those relationships to the nth degree so that their customer’s requirements are better shared and understood by Z-Seis—more than their customers may even know or understand.

As an example of this highly, valued customer/supplier partnership Z-Seis has worked closely with EnCana Corporation in advancing crosswell seismic technology to meet the unique needs for information over the life of a thermal bitumen project in the Oil Sands of northern Canada.  This relationship, documented in a July/August 2005 article “SAGDseismic” in Nichols New Technology Magazine, is based on the benefit of being able to record extremely high resolution information using the crosswell method to assist in well design as well as providing time-lapse information to track steam movement and other changes in the reservoir.  Weimin Zhang, EnCana’s senior geophysicist on the Christina Lake project indicates that the crosswell technology has greatly helped at Christina Lake and EnCana continues to acquire crosswell data.  A number of technology issues identified by EnCana and Z-Seis have been addressed.  For example, the crosswell source tool was initially too large to fit inside many observation wells within the Christina Lake field.  Z-Seis responded by reducing the diameter of the source to 3.5 inches.  In addition, Z-Seis has developed a more powerful Z-Trac EXtm tool that allows operation in wells spaced at greater distances as well as providing lower frequency information that can be used to calibrate the conventional 3-D data.  To enhance operating efficiency, Z-Seis has increased the number of listening devices from 10 to 20 and now to 60 to reduce survey times by a factor of 3.  Zhang summarized the long-term cooperative efforts between EnCana and Z-Seis:  “We have to solve one problem [at a time], then move on.”  Z-Seis has applied this same “can-do” attitude in many other applications around the globe.

Some Interesting Analogies — 4 Easy Steps to Quality
The same Z-Seis scientific methodology that runs their business is similar to the  process that also runs their excellent Quality Management System.  It involves 4 steps:

Step 1. In order to solve an identified problem such as a client’s need to precisely place an expensive horizontal well to minimize risk or how to accelerate turnaround of the client’s results in time-critical applications, Z-Seis must get to the root cause of the problem.

Step 2. The corrective action taken to solve a problem is based upon solid data and evidence, so there is very little need to address the problem again.

Step 3. The continual improvement attitude of “maintain and advance exploration technology and reservoir seismic efforts to better serve the customer” parallels the same structured processes Z-Seis uses to maintain their quality management system—basically improve everything they do, both internally and externally–for the customer.

Step 4. If Step 3 does not happen, repeat Steps 1 through 3 until you achieve your desired goals.

As simple as the above may sound, Z-Seis is successful because of the dedication of its entire team to continually improve.  They run their business just as seriously as they implement their geophysical data collection, processing and analyses.  They have fully demonstrated that the balance between core business requirements and the business system structure that underlies the organization (Quality Management System) and supports it can be integrated to reach higher levels of performance (see Figure 1).  This is a balancing act that is difficult to achieve especially for a smaller-sized company growing by leaps and bounds.

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Figure 1
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Creativity – Crack the Code
In many companies born from innovation and vision comes an understandable amount of skepticism of anything introduced that could limit creativity or “outside-the-box” thinking. Although there is nothing in a quality management system that specifically hinders creativity, there was an assumption that documentation and a high volume of paper work may infiltrate all levels within the already mountainous volumes of recordkeeping found at Z-Seis. In this business they already possess enough data points and evidence on electronic paper, so additional volumes of detail and records were not necessarily welcomed. With this organizational understanding, these myths were soon dispelled and eventually the team saw that creativity is an element for success in a quality management system. After all, creative solutions are what allowed Z-Seis to become what it is today by “cracking the code” to do more, different and better seismic analysis than their industry peers. As a matter of fact, this staff seemed to come up with many action item lists that demonstrated just how creative they were. Just as Z-Seis engineers had responded to client’s needs to track steam in very hot wells with reservoir seismic tools that function at unprecedented temperatures, Z-Seis engineers have implemented tool calibration procedures and standards where none existed before in the industry. As scientists, the Z-Seis team was challenged to find a problem-solving structure that would co-exist with the scientific method and still meet their business needs in a timely and cost-effective way. Finding new applications for their science is still the focus as they come to see more benefit to those who are unaware of what they may do for them. As the Z-Seis team searches to rediscover best practices and best solutions for new applications, the results are emerging:

    • Determining the extent of gas reserves in unconventional gas reservoirs is based on advanced AVA inversion methods newly-developed at Z-Seis
    • Oilfield crosswell technology has been adapted as an essential element of one of the largest geotechnical projects ever undertaken in support of site selection for the Detroit River International Crossing Bridge.
    • FACTtm attenuation measurements coupled with AVA inversion are providing new insight into reservoir properties such as porosity, permeability and saturation.

What’s Next? The Consultant’s Viewpoint
What matters most now as they move on in their improvement efforts is that the management team and all employees stay motivated. They have touched and tasted that model of “performance excellence” and started to digest the requirements for success, incorporating both the science and quality management structure into their company-wide objectives. They will move to the next higher levels of achievement and grow their business using their skills and experience as a team, and modifying and revolutionizing their system as they grow. The journey will not be easy by the very nature of their products and systems, but they will get there as long as the management team supports and leads the quality improvement efforts. The end result will be happier employees, happier customers and everyone wins.

What’s Next? The Management Viewpoint
The business, the technology and the quality management system all must grow to meet the increasing demand for more detailed reservoir information. Z-Seis will be expanding into new markets for crosswell imaging around the globe. The quality management system will assure that the same standards are applied worldwide so that wherever an Oil and Gas company may hire Z-Seis the same high-quality results will be present. The management system also provides invaluable data that assist in monitoring operations occurring in remote areas around the world.

Unique technologies developed for the crosswell application are being adapted to develop information in other configurations. As new technologies are developed, the quality management system provides the framework for documenting, training and deployment of the new methods reducing the risk of losing the benefit of a new idea in its initial implementation. In light of personnel shortages throughout the oil and gas industry, Z-Seis is working with clients to streamline the flow of information from the service sector into the needed solutions within the E&P company. An enhanced solution focus implemented within a well-defined quality management system will provide the trusted solutions that clients require.

A rapidly growing seismic reservoir company voluntarily developed a quality management system based on ISO-9001: 2000. They did not sign up in order to simply post the certificate on the wall. The president already had implemented best practices leadership so the implementation of the system was not threatening to the team. They owned the process after all was said and done, and they responded to the call for continual improvement. The implementation took into account the organizational culture and they developed specific ways to communicate and sell the benefits of using a quality system. The processes of documentation, operations, and training were synchronized to maximize effectiveness and provide the vehicle for developing improvements.

Creative energies within the organization were channeled to produce results to achieve business goals and create customer satisfaction. Now their efforts require ongoing assessment of potential markets and a unique customer base waiting for applications to be discovered. As they build a bigger and even better team, they will hold on to the solid seismic structure and attention to scientific detail that runs their operations and services. However, the key to effectively reaching their growth, profitability and customer-focused objectives relies upon how they manage and accept change. Maintaining the momentum of an effective quality system will be the continual challenge as this team drills deeper to focus on higher performance and to stay several strides ahead of the rapidly changing technology that may surface. They are determined and committed to making Z-Seis a key player in the “Seismic Revolution.”

Bruce P. Marion

Bruce P. Marion, President of Z-Seis Corporation, received electrical engineering degrees from Texas A&M University and Stanford University. He was a founder of Tomex Corporation in 1984 and developed the Tomex seismic-whiledrilling (SWD) technology. In 1992 he co-founded TomoSeis, a pioneer company in the development of commercial, low-cost crosswell technology. He developed many crosswell processing algorithms and was co-inventor of a unique borehole source. In 2003 he founded Z-Seis Corporation as a successor to TomoSeis to take crosswell technology to the next level.

Diane M. Elko

Diane M. Elko, President of Improve It! Consulting & Training, received the BA degree from Seton Hill University and an MBA from the Katz School of Management, University of Pittsburgh. She integrates ISO 9001 with overall performance/productivity methods to achieve effective management systems across a variety of businesses. Building teams and measurement systems promotes successful client/supplier relationships and is a key part of her practice methodology. As an advocate of maintaining simple approaches that make sense for the business, she assisted companies in winning award-winning results.