Fault, Fold Atlas a Teaching Tool

Author is Something Harvard, Texaco Have in Common

He's a Harvard guy. And, he's a Texaco guy.

And for him, the twain has met.

The divide between industry and academia in the fields of hydrocarbon exploration and earthquake detection is narrowing, according to John Shaw, co-author of the AAPG Studies in Geology 53: Seismic Interpretation of Contractional Fault-Related Folds, an AAPG seismic atlas.

It's about time.

As high-quality data became more available from industry and academia over the past two decades (though spread out in respective file cabinets and data bases), a resource was needed to both compile and interpret that vast, often unwieldy information.

"The idea for the book arose between co-editor Chris Connors and me while we both worked at Texaco," Shaw said. "Much of our time was spent sitting side-by-side with seismic interpreters helping to guide their structural analyses.

"We both prepared materials," he added, "and this soon became compiled into an industry short course on fault-related folding techniques."

Shaw, who is now the Harry C. Dudley Professor of Structural and Economic Geology at Harvard, explained that his atlas is divided into two sections — one part textbook, one part independent case studies.

To that end, he says, Studies 53, which was supported by several companies, " ... is used by E&P professionals involved in the interpretation of seismic reflection data for trap delineation and reservoir characterization, and supervisors who evaluate structural interpretations to assign and reduce drilling risks."

Image Caption

John Shaw in the field, making academic studies practical.

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He's a Harvard guy. And, he's a Texaco guy.

And for him, the twain has met.

The divide between industry and academia in the fields of hydrocarbon exploration and earthquake detection is narrowing, according to John Shaw, co-author of the AAPG Studies in Geology 53: Seismic Interpretation of Contractional Fault-Related Folds, an AAPG seismic atlas.

It's about time.

As high-quality data became more available from industry and academia over the past two decades (though spread out in respective file cabinets and data bases), a resource was needed to both compile and interpret that vast, often unwieldy information.

"The idea for the book arose between co-editor Chris Connors and me while we both worked at Texaco," Shaw said. "Much of our time was spent sitting side-by-side with seismic interpreters helping to guide their structural analyses.

"We both prepared materials," he added, "and this soon became compiled into an industry short course on fault-related folding techniques."

Shaw, who is now the Harry C. Dudley Professor of Structural and Economic Geology at Harvard, explained that his atlas is divided into two sections — one part textbook, one part independent case studies.

To that end, he says, Studies 53, which was supported by several companies, " ... is used by E&P professionals involved in the interpretation of seismic reflection data for trap delineation and reservoir characterization, and supervisors who evaluate structural interpretations to assign and reduce drilling risks."

As for the emphasis on contractional fault-related folds, Shaw maintains that it is these types of structures that form the majority of the large hydrocarbon traps in both organic and passive-margin fold and thrust belts worldwide.

Teach Your Children

Shaw, if you will, is something of a midwife in the field, maintaining an academic research group that regularly collaborates with the oil and gas industry.

"The atlas exemplifies that there is a benefit to industry-academic cooperation," he said. "If anything, it couldn't be produced by industry alone and it couldn't have been produced by academia alone."

And considering that natural hazards and energy prices have been in the news of late, the earth sciences, he says, are now on the "front burner" and universities and businesses have no other choice but to work together.

Chronicling the changes in the industry over the past 10 years, Shaw said that "to the extent possible, my co-editors and I have tried to write this book from an industry as well as academic perspective.

"I was very impressed by how influential Bert Bally's seismic atlas (the Seismic Expression of Structural Styles, AAPG Studies 15) had been to the industry, having had the benefit of taking an AAPG short course from him while I was a graduate student."

His effort, he says, was an attempt to "follow the pioneering and successful approach of Bally's work with a modern treatment of structural analysis techniques and excellent seismic examples from around the world."

More than just the quality and quantity advances in seismic data filling up the transom, there were other reasons he embarked on the project.

Shaw points to an industry where the work force was losing more members than it was replacing and a situation where "interpreters rarely seem to have time to learn new techniques."

Additionally, where there was new hiring in the industry, companies were staffing positions with young scientists that had little experience interpreting seismic.

"Thus, our goal for the book was to provide both experienced and new seismic interpreters with a condensed but thorough treatment of the subject of fault-related folding that could be offered in short-course format or serve as a companion while they sat at the workstation."

Everybody Get Together

For those thinking of buying homes in Los Angeles, for instance, Shaw's goal wasn't just an academic exercise.

"One of the most important insights gained by the earthquake hazards community over the past decade is that many faults besides the San Andreas pose a significant hazard to the residents of southern California," he said.

"In particular, blind-thrust faults, such as the source of the destructive 1994 Northridge (M 6.7) earthquake, can pose a substantial hazard, given their proximities to urbanized areas and large components of vertical ground motions they generate during ruptures," he said.

Shaw believes the best way to study these sources is by using seismic reflection and well bore data, including that which has been acquired by the industry.

"One of our important roles in the seismic hazard community is using our familiarity with industry data and interpretation techniques to help study and assess these concealed earthquake sources," he said.

He points out that this has led to the development with the Southern California Earthquake Center of what's called the Community Fault Model (CFM), a 3-D representation of all of the known faults in southern California deemed capable of generating large earthquakes.

"The CFM is a clear example of how industry methods can be extended to address another important earth science problem," he said.

So People, Get Ready

So does he have a prediction for the big one? No ... only to say:

"Certainly the scientific community is well aware that the southern segment of the San Andreas fault is overdue for a major rupture. The prospect of events on other major strike slip or blind thrust systems close to the city of Los Angeles also raises dire concerns."

But he adds, "People are stuck on earthquake prediction," wanting to know the exact time and place, "but the real progress has been made in the prediction of the hazards of an earthquake. 

"The goal of the seismic hazard community is to ensure that when California or the Pacific Northwest is struck by an event that we have seen recently in Indonesia, Taiwan, Turkey and Pakistan, we have done as much as possible to limit the loss of life and property."

Shaw, however, says that while Studies 53 can be used as both a guide for hydrocarbon exploration and earthquake detection, "The book is clearly focused on seismic interpretation techniques that are applicable to industry problems, from an industry perspective.

"Certainly the techniques and methods can be applied to other structural problems, such as investigations of earthquake faulting," he said, "but the book was largely written by and for the industry.

"One of the things that I enjoyed most about having the book published is using it in industry short courses," he said. "I have taught courses of this kind for many companies around the world in the past few years, and always enjoy, and learn a lot from, these interaction with industry scientists."

Studies 53 is available via the AAPG Bookstore, $69 members, $84 non-members.)

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