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June 1, 2014
Erickson Contract Surveying
By Louisa Barber
Sidney Herald

As the only seismic surveying company located in the Williston Basin, Erickson Contract Surveying, Inc., a family owned and operated company based out of Sidney, has seen it all. As a company that has been around for more than 40 years, one can bet its employees have seen technology in seismic surveying change over time.  

Back in the 1960s, seismic surveying was done using the plane table method. "That's where you set an instrument up on a plane table and you looked through it," operations manager Shandon Erickson said. "You had a head surveyor, head chainer and a rodman.  You measured distance with the chain and elevations with the alidade instrument".  

Today, it's all about technology. Now, our surveyors carry hand held data collectors that are linked by Bluetooth to the GPS unit that is mounted on a pole or in a backpack. "It's really helped the production and decreased the workforce," Erickson said. What was once a three-man crew, is now down to a one or two man crew, and the work is done much faster. "The one-man crew can get more done in a day–probably twice as much done, than a three-man crew could."  

Having been in the oil field for several years, naturally Erickson Contract Surveying has grown. The company has multiple divisions that include the following areas: seismic permitting, seismic surveying, seismic drilling and a land surveying division. "We survey every phase of an oil companies field from the seismic survey, to the staking of the well site, to the pipelines that move the oil to the refineries." Erickson said. The company has permit agents who meet with landowners to negotiate fees to cross their property, followed by Erickson's survey crews who stake certain spots where seismic equipment will be deployed to eventually determine where the oil is located thousands of feet below Earth's surface. Drilling crews then come in and drill a 40-60 foot shot hole and load shot hole with and explosive charge and then plug the shot holes to state specifications. Once the charge is set off, the energy from travels underground and waves bounce off the oil bearing formations and back to the geophones placed in the ground. The seismic geophones pick up the vibrations to map out where the oil is located.   Seismic exploration is always busy prior to when oil drilling rigs enter the scene (anywhere from two months to two years prior). Erickson said his company has been "swamped" in North Dakota with seismic jobs up to 300 square miles in size – something considered huge in his line of work. "You're looking at 100,000 points to survey on the 300 square miles job," he said. "You assign 10-15 crews to a job that size and you're looking at a three-month job. That was unheard of until they found the Bakken."  A big job just 10 years ago was 40 square miles with the average job being between 5 and 10 square miles. Today, a big job is 400.  

Since 1995 ECS has surveyed 80% of all seismic jobs done in North Dakota according to the states oil and gas website.

Ultimately, Erickson wants to take his company in the direction of being a "one stop shop" for oil companies in which ECS will survey the seismic portion of their field, stake the oil wells to be drilled, survey pipelines after oil wells are drilled and then put it all in a GIS (Geographical Information System) to showcase a base map of their field.  

At peak, ECS employs 60 workers with 20 main ones. As workloads increase, so does hiring. "The big thing in our industry is safety. We're really focusing on safety," Erickson said, adding the company is in the process of hiring an in-house safety man.  

As a business that considers itself mobile (its crews have field offices located in trailers), it has grown and expanded to include not only Montana and North Dakota but other states as well. Wherever there's oil, ECS is there, from New York to California, Texas and back to the Williston Basin. And there's no plans to quit now as plans are in place to allow ECS to be around for years to come. "We're in it for the long haul," Erickson said.

Attended Dickinson Bakken Oil Products & Service Show
Attended RMAG 22nd Annual 3D Seismic Symposium
Attended 2015 Billings, MT Energy Expo
Erickson Contract Surveying in the Sidney Herald
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