“I’m a data agnostic,” says Jim Hollis, President and CEO of geo-solutions company NEOS. “I believe that it should be possible to integrate all data types in the constant quest to lower uncertainty and reduce exploration risk.”
“Explorationists in the mining industry have accepted the concept of integrated analysis for some time now, yet the oil industry still tends to rely almost exclusively on a single measurement – seismic. In fact, more than 95% of all geophysical expenditure in the oil and gas industry is channelled into acquiring, processing and interpreting seismic data.”
“However, nowadays we have access to a rich technological tool box to augment our usual seismic and well data,” Jim continues. “Gravity measurements, defining areas of varying density within the earth, have been vital for outlining structure, sediment thickness variations, and especially salt accumulations, helped by magnetic field measurements, which can also outline faults. Electromagnetic (EM) data – measuring the resistivity of the earth – helps identify hydrocarbons, as does the measurement of radioactive decay, or radiometrics. And the use of hyperspectral sensors, which measure reflectance of the sun’s rays by the earth, can also give us further direct and indirect indications of minerals and hydrocarbons at the surface.”
“It’s all about understanding geology and measuring the physical properties of the earth at all depths from the surface to the source rock, and all these measurements should be used and interpreted together, not in isolation. Which tools are most relevant may vary from basin to basin, but the more measurements we utilise, the more constrained and accurate our interpretation will be. That’s what we do at NEOS: we integrate a broad range of G&G data from a wide variety of sources to produce a highly constrained model of the subsurface.”
Jim has long held a dream of creating methods to pool all available data to enhance interpretation – in fact he has been thinking about it since he was a student studying geophysics in California. But, until recently, neither computing capacity nor the various sensors available were powerful enough to cope with the vast quantities of data that were generated and the processing required to decipher what the measurements were telling us.
“Now, however, we in NEOS have been able to do three important things,” he explains. “We have tried to identify the most important aspects of each technology and using that information we have developed better, more accurate sensors. Secondly, we have fused them together in a single airborne sensor unit, so we can acquire all this data simultaneously. And third, we have built a data management and interpretation system that enables us to effectively bring all the information together on one platform. Our methodology ensures that each individual G&G dataset informs and constrains the others when all the measurements are interpreted simultaneously, and that is where we believe the most revealing subsurface insights can be generated.”
The integration of data is not confined to freshly acquired data. Public domain data, information available for licence via third-parties or resident in client or NEOS data archives – all can be merged, the sum being bigger than the parts.
High Level Investors
Realising that accelerating computing power was the key to building an integrated model, Jim, who was COO of ION Geophysical Corporation before joining NEOS in January 2010, looked to the IT world of Silicon Valley for investment when setting up the company. He has managed to gather a number of very high level backers, including among them some of the world’s best known investors and entrepreneurs, including venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers – the entity that backed pioneering companies such as Google and Amazon – as well as Goldman Sachs, Energy Capital Group and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“In addition to supplying the capital needed for our ambitious growth plans, by tapping into these networks, we ensure that our methods incorporate the latest thinking in technology, computing, neural networks and intelligent search,” Jim adds. “For example, our link with Google means that we use that technology for our geospatial file management.”
Introducing the NeoSphere
“In NEOS we have developed a proprietary data management and interpretation system, which we call the NeoSphereTM, says Jim. “This is a software platform which uses a statistically driven, multivariate inversion on the data, allowing us to manage all these different types of information simultaneously and to process, visualise and interpret them within a single desktop context. It allows geoscientists to access individual geophysical datasets, test and model interpretation hypotheses, and compare their interpretations to regional well control or seismic.”
“Even major companies with a vast range of expertise available find it hard to integrate information in an asset team. If you think about it, we have at our disposal data from NASA at a global level, down to the minute particles studied in geochemistry. So smaller companies with less manpower have even greater issues, and within the NeoSphere we have built collaborative tools to help them work as teams. I feel that this technology is particularly invaluable to them, allowing them to operate more like the ‘big boys’. The NeoSphere also allows geoscientists to join forces across locations through the sharing of both data and interpretations to be confirmed or challenged by their colleagues.”
NEOS has a particular speciality in the rarefied science of hyperspectral analysis, looking at over 600 bands over a continuous spectral range, from ultraviolet to thermal infrared. NEOS’s purpose-built hyperspectral sensor measurements, complemented by ground truthing using a 2,151 channel spectro-radiometer, ensures that unique spectral signatures can be accurately recorded and compared to the in-house spectral library containing hundreds of mineral and flora indicators known to be associated with hydrocarbons. “The hyperspectral tool can also be used to identify gas which has migrated to the surface, in much the same way as slicks and seeps can be used to identify potential oil accumulations,” Jim adds.
“Our unique integrated system allows us to provide solutions to the full range of exploration requirements, starting with a review of the potential of large frontier areas at macro scale. More detailed study of a known or prospective basin involving acquisition of new gravity, magnetic and hyperspectral sensors, acquired with one of our own aircraft, can be followed by an investigation at the prospect level, flying a tightly gridded pattern at high resolution to identify potentially drillable prospects.”
“Core to the company is the ability to glean from each methodology and fuse them together,” he concludes. “Our aim is to bring something new to the industry by being able to do all these things simultaneously – and cheaper, faster, and, hopefully, better.”