July 2014

What's new in exploration

Demand for better exploration technology continues to grow

William (Bill) Head / Contributing Editor


Exploration technology has been changing since its inception. We use it, cuss it, and improve it. The folks who depend on technology spend a lot of money to make it better, and lower-risk.

However, let’s face our intent plainly. If a divining rod made from a young apple tree would work more than 50% of the time to find oil, that first piece of apple tree would be in a museum. Today, vendors would be selling rods with GPS.

The truth is that no matter what we use, we still see dimly into the subsurface. Billions of dollars spent to date, and we still do not clearly have an image of the subsurface in sufficient detail to prevent risk altogether. A RPSEA study, funded in February 2009 with Knowledge Reservoir (07121-1701), looked at just how effective exploration and delineation methods were in predicting drilling locations and reservoir size, compared to actual production.

The study showed that poor volumetric forecasts occurred across most operators in the Gulf of Mexico. The study pointed out that a large gap exists between prediction tools and practices. This was especially true in predicting flow. The result?

Over-drilling was more of a problem than under-drilling; most of us were disappointed by the last one or two wells in a development.

This should surprise no one. Worldwide, we are a group of optimists. If explorationists want to drill, then super-cali-fra-gil-istic-ex-pi-ali-do-cious to everything! Have engineers never had a drilling budget that was not inflated for safety and internal comfort? The end result is that as an industry, we have spent a lot of money drilling where we hoped we would find oil, more than drilling where we knew we would find oil.

The historical truth is that all exploration technology was once owned by oil companies. Then, over time, that technology was transferred to independent parties. GSI and Schlumberger were born. Drilling rigs and ships were sold. The Mertz brothers moved across the street in Ponca City, Okla. All oil company seismic crews were disbanded. Some science did remain inside oil. When Sir John gave the industry AMOCO’s tech, the reaction inside oil was recognition of the obvious. Vendors with incentives to improve technology would be the ones who had to make those changes. Folks within oil became managers of technology.

Science consortiums, universities, national labs and 501(c)3’s were the rising tech centers. DeepStar, as a group JIP, was one. Battelle, a 501 with 22,000 employees, is another. RPSEA working with congressional funding, finding technology for its 189 members, is yet another. Today, I see an effort by some oil companies to once again own exploration technology.

What’s new? Companies, such as BP and Statoil, have divisions to search for, and purchase breakthroughs in, exploration technology. Oil companies have learned that not owning seismic data, except multi-client sets, was not the best idea on where to look, since others are looking there, too. Oil companies are re-learning that using technology that everyone else is using may not be the best path, either.

AAPG’s annual convention this year certainly demonstrated that a lot of people are in business to have oil companies fall in love at “first byte.” There are now bolt-on software products to differentiate individual companies’ exploration programs. OTC 2014 held an open panel discussion, where Statoil talked about finding the next-generation E-tool set for internal consumption. They might be interested in sharing later. That fellow was swamped after the session closed. Private ownership is, again, a developing trend.

The RPSEA model requires public dissemination up front. RPSEA receives hundreds of ideas and requests for funding. The talent and demand for better exploration technology exists and is growing. We should see some awesome breakthroughs in technology, and new ideas to challenge conventional concepts.

Tech news. In May’s issue, this column reported RPSEA’s announcement that it is pursuing a JIP to further develop a fiber optic VSP tool that can be deployed on drill pipe for either deepwater wells or long horizontal wells. The workshop was a success, and major oil is in discussion with Paulsson, Inc.

SEG’s SEAM will begin to study pore pressure prediction as a joint private-public partnership with RPSEA and about 14 interested oil companies and vendors. The intent is to show our industry what current practice will produce, when compared to a perfectly known geologic and fluid setting, when the data used to determine pore pressure are as perfect as they will ever be. Then, opportunity exists to improve how we predict pore pressure from seismic, and hopefully create suggestions to advance the science for a better, safer outcome.

The consortium will provide a collaborative forum, where industry experts prioritize current challenges in the use of seismic velocity models to construct pre-drill pore pressure forecasts for well planning. These challenges will be used to design a comprehensive earth model and to “acquire,” through state-of-the-art computer simulation, benchmark data sets. These sets will be used by industry to quantify risk and uncertainty associated with velocity models derived from both current and future state-of-the-art seismic acquisition, processing and imaging.

The focus will be the deepwater GOM. However, resultant advances in pressure prediction technology and methodology will be more broadly relevant. SEAM Pressure Prediction will commence in late 2014 and is expected to last two to three years. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
Contributing Editor
William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in U.S. and international exploration.
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