Applying Innovations in Geophysics to the Hydrocarbon Industry

Regular GEO ExPro contributor Martin Landrø is Professor of Applied Geophysics at the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Applied Geophysics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. Here he discusses some of the more important innovations in the science of geophysics when applied to the hydrocarbon industry.
This article appeared in Vol. 12, No. 4 - 2015


What first drew you to geophysics? 

My wife! I had signed up for a research position at the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen, without telling my wife, and when I let her know about this golden opportunity in Denmark, she was not prepared for Copenhagen, and after a long discussion I applied for a position within geophysics in Norway, accepted, and turned down the Danish offer. 

What geophysical innovations or technologies have had the greatest impact on the hydrocarbon industry? 

In recent years, I would say that 3D seismic has significantly changed the way the industry works, both for exploration and for reservoir characterisation. For marine geophysics, I think that the introduction of four-component seabed seismic has been a game changer, while within reservoir geophysics I think 4D seismic has been a major step forward. Offshore Norway there are now four fields being monitored by permanent receivers (PRM) that have been entrenched into the seabed. The Norwegian government has already decided that the new giant Johan Sverdrup field will be monitored by a PRM system. I would also say that the growth of controlled source electromagnetic methods (CSEM) has been an innovation step that has definitely changed the industry. 

Martin Landrø held research positions with SERES (86-89), SINTEF Petroleum (89- 93) and Statoil (96-98), and was section manager at SINTEF Petroleum from 93-96. He is an EAGE distinguished lecturer and, among many other awards, was recipient of the prestigious ENI award in 2011 for the development and application of the 4D seismic analysis. Do the most useful geophysical innovations come from academia or the industry? 

They come from the industry in most cases. However, if you search you will often find academic traces in such innovations as early stage research initiatives. All the examples that I gave above were the result of research carried out by the industry, simply because big money is usually needed, in addition to great ideas. 

Is the oil industry always ready to adopt new geophysical technologies? 

No – I think that it is always a question of cost and benefit. When the oil price is low, innovations related to efficiency are very attractive. However, when the oil price is high, there is more room for new ways to detect oil and gas. 

Is a downturn like the present one likely to slow down or encourage new technologies? 

In general it will slow down new technologies simply because of lower research budgets. There will however, be an increased focus on those innovations looking at cost reduction and increased efficiency.

Are we producing enough qualified geophysicists and are we training appropriately? 

At the moment, we produce more geophysicists than the market is capable of absorbing. Taking a long term perspective, the universities must plan for an average number that does not follow the fluctuations in the oil price. It is a crucial and important question to ask if the training we give the students is sufficient. I think it is important to focus on giving them the right toolbox that enables them to take jobs in a broad geophysical job market. The next wave of retirements in the hydrocarbon business is now the 55+ age group, and despite the current industry downturn we will require an influx of young brains with new ideas in the future. 

What geophysical breakthroughs do you hope to see in the next 10 years? 

I hope to see an enormous growth in the number of data traces that go into a seismic acquisition – my dream is to tow a dense carpet of receivers behind the vessel for marine seismic acquisition. I also hope that we will be able to extend the broadband seismic bandwidth below 2 Hz in the future. I foresee a breakthrough related to new innovative ways of combining key geophysical methods that we use today: seismic, electromagnetic and gravity methods.


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