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From our magazine: Ian Jack - future seismic technology

Friday, May 26, 2017

After the 1986 downturn, we saw a renewed interest in seismic technology. What kind of technology might oil and gas companies be interested in this time around? Ian Jack, a former distinguished advisor at BP, shared his ideas at our London conference.

After the 1980s oil and gas downturn, when oil and gas companies started spending on exploration again, we saw a big push to new technology, said Ian Jack, a former distinguished advisor at BP.

He was speaking at the Finding Petroleum conference in London in September, 'Finding New Exploration Ideas".

For example, for seismic surveying, 'we said goodbye to single cable boats in the North Sea at the time. We went to 4, 6, 8, and 12 cables.

Also, at the time, 'there was a move to multi-azimuth surveys, such as with vessels in overlapping circles or with ocean-bottom recording,' he said.

There was also better technology for streamer control introduced.

So, we might expect to see a big growth in spending on seismic technology as we come out of the downturn this time - particularly technology which can provide better seismic images. 'The best seismic images that we get now are irresistible,' he said.

We might also see research and development departments being more active, and new technologies arriving from the 'left field'.

We will see more use of 'blended sources'. This has been done on land for a several years, with recording from a number of independent vibrators simultaneously. There will be more use of it in the marine environment, Mr Jack said.

We may see more use of broadband seismic surveys, with recording additional bandwidth at low and high frequencies. 'I think we have to credit PGS for getting this into the marine streamer market,' he said.

WesternGeco has moved a step forward, where it installs an additional sensor in a crossline direction, which can be used to make a seismic cube.

Left field

Mr Jack gave some other examples of 'left field' technology which we might expect to see more of, in the next few years.

Seismic company CGG recently launched TopSeis, disengaging the seismic source and the seismic vessel. 'That gives you a much better azimuth sampling at the near offsets,' he said. 'That's a step forward.'

There had previously been a trend towards more ocean bottom recording, for example with fibre optic permanent reservoir monitoring systems.

But now we may see more 'nodes', devices which are temporarily left on the seabed. 'I think we have to give Fairfield Nodal credit for stimulating this market,' he said.

The first nodal surveys had a few hundred nodes, in shallow water only, which were placed with ropes. For deeper surveys, you can place and retrieve them using Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROV) which can be very expensive.

'But I do happen to know, this year, there has been an ocean bottom survey which cost 10 per cent what it would have cost in 2010. The project uses 9000 nodes and blended sources,' he said.

Norwegian company inApril AS ( is developing a 10,000 node offshore system, where the nodes can be launched from a vessel. 'These numbers will probably become the norm,' he said.

Robotic seismic

But it gets very interesting when we start to talk about robotics. 'We'll start with flying nodes in the marine environment, with a device that has its own propulsion system, he said.

The vessel can drop many nodes into the water in a basket, so they are close to where they need to be, and then the nodes fly themselves through the water into their recording positions. They communicate acoustically for positioning and retrieval.

Another recent arrival from the company Kietta consists of autonomous (drone) vessels on the surface connected to seismic recording cables. You could have say 10 cables, 8 km long, each with a drone vessel at each end, keeping the cables tensioned. The cables could be shallow or tens of metres deep.

'The drones can hold the cables steady while the source boat goes transversely, or the entire patch could move itself slowly.'

Seismic receivers and sources

Another possibility is SoundSabre -- a recording with multicomponent receivers buried in the ground as vertical arrays, connected to seabed nodes, spaced flexibly according to requirements. This would be much cheaper than a permanent reservoir monitoring system, because drilling site-survey boreholes offshore is routine and less expensive than digging long trenches. They would also be recording microseismic energy.

There could also be interesting developments in seismic sources, including from Chelminsky Technology, a company which developed the first airgun in the 1970s. It is developing a 'tuned' pulse source, a low frequency low pressure airgun system.

'It gives another octave lower than the current spectrum. Because it is lower pressure it is more durable, repeatable and predictable.'

The device doesn't generate frequencies above 150 Hz, and can be a 'plug-in' replacement for existing airgun systems.


In 1986, nearly all geophysics students ended up finding jobs in the City of London, since there were no oil and gas jobs available.

However this year, oil and gas companies are still recruiting in geophysics, but on a smaller scale, 'taking the best of the best' and often putting people on a fast track. This can lead to graduates who have been in the industry for 4-5 years not getting opportunities, and so leaving the industry for related industries such as mining. 'That's the reality of the moment,' he said.

One audience member suggested that four or five young graduates might be able to make a similar contribution to the industry as one senior executive, at much less cost. 'We are paying people £200,000 a year,' he said. 'I think we underestimate the capacity of young people to do what we do.'

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