In an innovative process that fits well in an industry trying to shave costs in the era of low-dollar oil, a team of surveyors at Fugro Chance Inc. in Lafayette is now handling work that usually requires a lot more manpower and expense.

And the team is doing its critical monitoring of offshore oil work from inside the company’s Office Assisted Remote Services, or OARS, command center on Dulles Drive, rather than from vessels and rigs across the Gulf of Mexico.

“With our system here, we don’t actually have anybody on board” the vessels, said Steve Hebert, a nine-year veteran at Fugro Chance who added that he doesn’t miss climbing aboard a barge or a boat or a rig for weekslong stays in the Gulf.

Depending on the workload, up to four surveyors at one time monitor an array of computer screens that show on-location marine vessels working on oil and gas projects across the Gulf. It could be a dive boat repairing a pipeline south of Galveston, a drilling rig in very deep waters far south of New Orleans or a derrick barge installing a 300-ton production platform south of Lake Charles.

The command center, like oil and gas operations in the Gulf, runs 24 hours a day, every day of the year and can monitor up to 50 locations. And like Fugro’s survey personnel aboard the vessels, the command center monitors their locations.

Fugro Chance Inc., the U.S. division of Fugro World Wide, started working on the OARS system in Lafayette a few years ago when technological breakthroughs made remote survey possible.

“This isn’t a new idea,” Fugro Chance President Blaine Thibodeaux said. “The technology didn’t exist and the bandwidth didn’t exist to make this happen.”

The company started working on what became OARS a few years ago, Fugro Chance media liaison Dixie Poché said last week.

Back then, oil sold for about $100 a barrel, and work with oil and gas producers was plentiful. At oil’s current price of under $40 a barrel, anything that lowers expenses is well received by offshore energy producers and contractors who now look at costs with a magnifying glass.

With just the company’s survey equipment on board the work vessels, it’s much less expensive than having a crew of surveyors, Poché said.

Thibodeaux said the majority of Fugro surveyors out of Lafayette continue to travel and live offshore aboard vessels and rigs. But demand is growing for OARS remote monitoring.

After the survey equipment is set up on a vessel, it stays there. Data flows through satellites to give a detailed schematic on the vessel’s location in an oil and gas field. It also shows the locations of high-pressure pipelines on the sea floor; dragging an anchor into a pipeline can be catastrophic.

Thibodeaux said OARS will not replace surveyors in the field, as some jobs are too complex for remote survey.

The OARS system, for which Fugro has a patent pending, will soon begin operations in the North Sea and will be run from a command center in the company’s Aberdeen, Scotland, office.

Thibodeaux said he continues to believe in the energy industry and Fugro’s role in it, even in the current depths of a severe downturn.

“Oil and gas is a good market,” Thibodeaux said. “We’re just in a bad season.”