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Technology Advances On the Way

Nine Areas Show Meaningful Development

Geologist or geophysicist?

With seismic, the lines are blurred.

"The geologist/geophysicist distinction is fading to 'geoscientist,' because a lot of geologists are doing seismic interpretation now," said Mike Bahorich.

Bahorich is executive vice president-E&P technology for Apache Corp. in Houston, an AAPG member and president of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) for 2003.

As part of his duties as SEG president, he will be speaking on "The Road Ahead for 3-D Seismic" around the world.

And with that in mind, he outlined for the EXPLORER nine areas of coming seismic advances, in computing, digital recording, massive channel counts, 3-D imaging, time-lapse 4-D, anisotropy, seismic attributes, multicomponent recording and visualization.

Bahorich gained fame for his work at Amoco in developing the seismic coherence cube, introduced in 1995. It was the most recent big-idea breakthrough in geophysics.

"Almost all of the technologies that are of significant benefit to us today have been known and worked on for years," he said. "The cycle time from development to 50 percent penetration in the industry is often five to 10 years."

As an example, he cited the recent introduction by Input/Output Inc. of digital multicomponent recording hardware, a technology heralded for over a decade but only now becoming commercially available.

Pete Maxwell is commercialization manager for Input/Output's VectorSeis® multicomponent products in Houston. The company has spent 15 years in developing the technology.

After initial work was complete, about four years ago, it then conducted more than 30 field tests in cooperation with Veritas DGC, plus other tests across Europe and one in China, Maxwell said.

Input/Output made its first sale of the technology in November, to China National Petroleum Corp. subsidiary BGP.

New advances in geophysics will be vital for the industry to meet global energy demands, Bahorich noted.

"The E&P industry is facing a tremendous challenge, to add 37 million barrels (of production) a day over the next decade," he said. "Advances in 3-D seismic will play a significant role in meeting that challenge."

Bahorich predicts meaningful developments in the following areas:

Image Caption

Good things come in small packages? The micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) sensor chip is designed to provide better views below gas clouds and salt; help predict lithology and fluid type; and provide better fracture and stress identification.
Photo courtesy of Input/Output

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Geologist or geophysicist?

With seismic, the lines are blurred.

"The geologist/geophysicist distinction is fading to 'geoscientist,' because a lot of geologists are doing seismic interpretation now," said Mike Bahorich.

Bahorich is executive vice president-E&P technology for Apache Corp. in Houston, an AAPG member and president of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) for 2003.

As part of his duties as SEG president, he will be speaking on "The Road Ahead for 3-D Seismic" around the world.

And with that in mind, he outlined for the EXPLORER nine areas of coming seismic advances, in computing, digital recording, massive channel counts, 3-D imaging, time-lapse 4-D, anisotropy, seismic attributes, multicomponent recording and visualization.

Bahorich gained fame for his work at Amoco in developing the seismic coherence cube, introduced in 1995. It was the most recent big-idea breakthrough in geophysics.

"Almost all of the technologies that are of significant benefit to us today have been known and worked on for years," he said. "The cycle time from development to 50 percent penetration in the industry is often five to 10 years."

As an example, he cited the recent introduction by Input/Output Inc. of digital multicomponent recording hardware, a technology heralded for over a decade but only now becoming commercially available.

Pete Maxwell is commercialization manager for Input/Output's VectorSeis® multicomponent products in Houston. The company has spent 15 years in developing the technology.

After initial work was complete, about four years ago, it then conducted more than 30 field tests in cooperation with Veritas DGC, plus other tests across Europe and one in China, Maxwell said.

Input/Output made its first sale of the technology in November, to China National Petroleum Corp. subsidiary BGP.

New advances in geophysics will be vital for the industry to meet global energy demands, Bahorich noted.

"The E&P industry is facing a tremendous challenge, to add 37 million barrels (of production) a day over the next decade," he said. "Advances in 3-D seismic will play a significant role in meeting that challenge."

Bahorich predicts meaningful developments in the following areas:

➤ Computing.

Look for declining storage costs, transmission costs and costs per cycle. "As those drop, we're going to see a number of benefits," he said.

"You'll see more thin-client application use. You'll see interpretations being done at home more often. You'll also see software that quickly accesses prestack data over a network."

Faster speeds and lower costs will benefit algorithms like prestack wave-equation depth migration. Archival storage of prestack data on disc will allow quicker analysis.

➤ Digital Recording.

"Even today, on almost every seismic survey the initial recording is an analog signal recorded by a coil and magnet in a geophone," Bahorich said.

By contrast, digital recording provides the potential for a lighter system with better dynamic range and higher fidelity.

A few digital geophones with chips are in use right now, he believes, and the number will increase as costs come down.

➤ Massive Channel Counts.

Bahorich looks for another big jump in channel counts as technology improves.

"For years we recorded 48 channels, and then we went to 96, often used in a 2-D split spread geometry," he said. "When we went to 3-D we started with these small channels."

That count grew into the hundreds, then reached the 1,000-channel point, and Bahorich expects the increase to continue.

"I think we'll be seeing in the future channel counts in the 10,000 to 20,000 channel range," he said.

Increased channel counts could lead to the elimination of field arrays, with arrays being formed and analyzed in the computer.

"You can do smart array forming and resolve problems in the presence of significant surface static. Improved wave-field sampling give you a better signal-to-noise ratio, resulting in a better image," he added.

➤ 3-D Imaging.

As computing costs come down and speeds increase, complex algorithms will be used more widely, to the benefit of imaging and interpretation.

"The new wave-equation, depth-migration methods are expensive now, but they offer a more accurate solution," Bahorich said, "especially in the presence of rapid velocity variation associated with salt features."

➤ Time-Lapse 4-D.

"I think time-lapse will continue to expand. One of the things people don't realize about time-lapse is that it's still largely confined to the North Sea," Bahorich noted.

Little 4-D seismic work now occurs in the Gulf of Mexico shelf, where only a few companies monitor reservoirs with a series of 3-D seismic acquisitions.

"As 4-D becomes more common and cheaper to implement, you'll see it spread beyond the North Sea and deepwater plays," he said.

➤ Anisotropy.

In general, geophysicists ignore the fact that the velocity of sound waves varies with direction, according to Bahorich.

"We know that the subsurface is heterogeneous, but we've always assumed that each little unit is isotropic," he said. "Over the next five years you'll begin to see more algorithms that correct for anisotropy."

Techniques exist for handling anisotropy, but they may not be well understood — and aren't often applied.

"This is an example of a technology that's underutilized, in my mind," Bahorich said. "We have some tools to correct for anisotropy, but we generally ignore it."

➤ Seismic Attributes.

Mathematical inversion of seismic attributes to rock properties will increasingly aid interpretation, Bahorich predicted.

When attributes are tied to well control they can be correlated to petrophysical properties, enabling the interpreter to identify and associate high correlations with specific properties, like porosity.

"We have new techniques using neural networks to do this more rapidly and efficiently," he said.

➤ Multicomponent Recording.

After years of talk, the industry is finally seeing lighter-weight, multicomponent recording hardware in the introduction stage.

Multicomponent devices record sound in three orthogonal directions, picking up P-wave and shear-wave information.

"The converted shear-wave data allows you to look through gas clouds. Sometimes your structure map can look like a doughnut — the center is depressed because of all the gas," Bahorich said.

Input/Output claims its new hardware will not only provide better views below gas clouds and salt, but also help predict lithology and fluid type and provide better fracture and stress identification.

With its improved lithology/fluid discrimination, the technology might even be used to calibrate bright spots, Bahorich said.

➤ Visualization.

Something positive about computer games for kids?

"Graphic cards keep getting better and better" as those games become more sophisticated, Bahorich said. That results in better seismic displays on the desktop.

"Visualization systems tend to allow you to animate through data very rapidly," he said. "This is important because we're predators. Our eye is trained to see things in motion.

"As you go from one line to the next, things change. You can spot anomalies much more quickly when they are in motion."

Large-screen displays allow collaboration in seismic interpretation, and the costs don't have to be extravagant, according to Bahorich. He said collaboration can be done with a PC and a $5,000 projector.

"There have been some spectacular failures in this area," he noted. "The business model of setting up a million-dollar visualization room and renting it out to companies has not done well.

"You will be able to get a better visualization set-up for $25,000 in 2005 than you could have for $1 million in 1995."


As geologists add seismic interpretation to their professional toolkits, it's important for them to understand and utilize advances in geophysics, said Bahorich.

"Geologists should stay up with the latest technology, to be able to use the best tools for whatever problem is being faced," he said.

Bahorich noted that this knowledge can be acquired from a number of sources, including training sessions, professional papers, industry publications and the World Wide Web — not to mention the short courses and other support available from professional societies like SEG and AAPG.

"The individual geoscientist can find some fantastic resources," he said. "Bright people take advantage of what professional societies offer."

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