The gloomy oil industry scenarios widely reported by the media tend to overlook the ongoing technological innovations that are positioned to bring additional hydrocarbons out of the ground more economically.
GroundMetrics in San Diego is attracting considerable attention in this arena.
The company identifies itself as a full service survey and monitoring company and the world leader in the development of land-based electromagnetic/resistivity sensor systems.
Among its breakthroughs, it notes innovations in sensors, power transmitters and 3-D computational models, methods and analytics.
To the point, the firm has developed and patented a fundamentally new sensor system technology that it says is transforming enhanced oil recovery, mature field development and hydraulic fracturing monitoring.
In testimony to its expertise, GroundMetrics was recently dubbed one of the "Ten Most Promising Energy and Clean Technology Companies" at the 13th annual Rice Alliance Energy and Clean Technology Forum - and it's been covered in Forbes magazine, Reuters and other major news outlets.
"The underlying science for our eQube sensors was developed by Quasar Federal Systems for the U.S. Department of Defense," said Mark Wilkinson, vice president of unconventionals and geophysics at GroundMetrics. "For application of that science in the space of oil and gas, all of that was developed by GroundMetrics."
An Electric Effect
Wilkinson emphasized that its rapidly deployable, capacitive electric-field sensor eQube is 100 times more sensitive than competing sensors - and also more stable.
The relatively new technology can be used on its own or to supplement seismic data.
The company's surface-based system can see both between and beyond wellbores, enabling multiple-mile resistivity imaging. In fact, depth capability exceeds 10,000 feet with a lateral extent of more than two miles beyond the boreholes.
The result is a comprehensive view of subsurface data and the movement of fluids within a reservoir.
Traditional surface-operated resistivity systems are restricted to shallow underground targets. They actually can be non-functioning in certain terrains such as frozen tundra, volcanic rock and areas subject to extreme temperatures.
The wellbore is central to application of the new, advanced technology.
With the eQube sensors placed on the earth's surface, the wellbore is used as a transmission antenna, according to Wilkinson.
"We hook an electric source to a wellbore, or for certain applications we lower an electrode into a wellbore on a wireline, to inject current into the earth," he noted. "The electric field created by injecting that current, we can detect at the earth's surface.
"The current is injected into the earth by the wellbore, and that creates local electric fields from the wellbore to the surface," he said. "Those electric fields are affected by the geology.
"It's that electric field we detect," he added, "and by processing and interpreting the results we can understand the geology down to wellbore depth and out as much as two miles from the wellbore."
Wilkinson emphasized that the primary applications for this technology are:
♦ Improved or enhanced oil recovery.
♦ Hydraulic fracturing monitoring.
♦ Brownfield exploration.
He elaborated on the potential for brownfields.
"Because you need the wellbore for transmitting, we can come in and find resistive bodies in and around producing and abandoned wells," he noted. "If a client understands their geology well and can interpret those resistive bodies to be bypassed pay, we can find those.
"What we're measuring is resistivity in the subsurface," he said, "and if that can be mapped and interpreted to be an accumulation of hydrocarbons, we can help with brownfield exploration."
There are industry players who view the current downturn to be a less-than-prime time to promote new technology, even if it offers the opportunity to create more efficiency and improve the economics.
Wilkinson couldn't disagree more.
"In times like this when oil companies are struggling to find ways to be profitable, it's these times they will try a new technology," he said. "So the companies that still have budget are snapping up what we're offering because right now they need new technology."
GroundMetrics lays claim to a blue chip customer list with a history of repeat business.
"All have repeated," Wilkinson noted, "or are currently planning follow-up work."