Ideas and Innovation

Industry is faced with serious challenges – it’s time to think innovatively.
This article appeared in Vol. 11, No. 4 - 2015


We usually find oil in a new place with old ideas. Sometimes, we find oil in an old place with a new idea, but we seldom find much oil in an old place with an old idea.” 

Parke A. Dickey’s 1958 quote rings as loud and clear today as it did 56 years ago. Unlocking the oil and gas trapped in very tight formations, in areas that were considered mature exploration plays, is a clear example. Yes, it took adapting some new technologies and a lot of perseverance, but ultimately it was a revolutionary idea that drove this major change in how and where we drill for oil and gas.

Geophysical innovation plays an important role in both exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, as pointed out by Robert Peebler while chairman and CEO of ION Geophysical. He recognized that “Geophysics arguably represents the single most transformative technological link in the value creation chain for oil and gas companies, if for no other reason than the fact that it is typically where the value creation process begins. The point of inception of almost every discovery or infill well can invariably be found somewhere in a seismic data set.” Yet, in spite of amazing advances in seismic innovation, one mission has remained elusive, as Sofia Khan, president of Nonlinear Seismic Imaging, Inc., points out. “Regardless of the scale of operation, the quest remains the same – to directly detect hydrocarbons beneath the earth’s surface. Realization of the need for emerging technologies by major operators confirms my own belief that there is no technology being used yet that can help us in directly locating the hydrocarbon accumulations with any level of certainty.”

The Seismic Holy Grail

“At present, when there is so much at stake, the oil industry will have to take a second look at the fundamentals of the current seismic technology to determine if something basic has been missed or some wrong assumptions have been made in the earlier stages of its development that now require the necessary revisions, ” says Ms. Khan. “To satisfy the current requirements of making new discoveries and extracting larger reserves from the producing fields in more cost effective ways, industry is faced with serious challenges to find a way to map reservoir heterogeneities and its flow characteristics with greater accuracy. Quite often, current seismic imaging efforts fail to satisfy the production needs of mature reservoirs and end up providing ambiguous results and solutions to production problems. In spite of all the recent progress in seismic data acquisition and seismic data processing, results can be non-unique and do not identify the higher porosity and fractured zones that contain a significant portion of the hydrocarbon reserves.”

Ms. Khan has taken that second look and may have found that ‘seismic holy grail’ by exploring beyond conventional assumptions commonly used when acquiring and processing seismic data. Acknowledging the significance of new frequencies generated by reservoirs not present in the input signal may very well be that direct link to the advancement in reservoir modeling the oil and gas companies have long sought.


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