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NEOS - helping O+G companies explore with non-seismic technologies

Thursday, December 17, 2015

NEOS, an exploration solutions company based in San Francisco, is helping oil and gas companies do more with non-seismic technologies, such as gravity, magnetic, hyperspectral and electromagnetics

NEOS, an exploration solutions company headquartered in San Francisco, and with offices in Houston and Denver, is providing a range of exploration services that help oil and gas companies identify drilling prospects, develop insights to solve specific subsurface imaging problems, organise non-seismic data surveys and interpret the acquired data.

It provides services in both seismic and non-seismic, but the non-seismic services and associated workflows - including with electromagnetics and hyperspectral imaging, make the company unique, says Chris Friedemann, chief commercial officer with NEOS.

Investors include Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Passport Capital, Bill Gates, and Ocado co-founder, Jonathan Faiman, now Executive Chairman at NEOS.

NEOS employs 80-90 people, of which over half are geoscientists.

The company's background is primarily non-seismic. It was originally established in 2003 with a big promise of exploring with satellite data imagery.

In 2010, the company re-orientated, with the realisation that seismic technology would continue to be the dominant exploration technology - but there was a business advantage to being able to do more with non-seismic technologies to support it.

At that time, it brought in a new management team, which had a strong background in seismic. The CEO since January 2010 is Jim Hollis, former COO at seismic company ION Geophysical.

The company announced in June 2015 that it had appointed Jonathan Faiman as executive chairman. Mr Faiman is cofounder of UK online grocery store Ocado and previously worked in banking. He has a degree in physics from Imperial College London.

In August 2015, NEOS acquired ION's land seismic data processing operation. The team, now called NEOS Seismic Imaging Group, has completed nearly 400 subsurface imaging projects since 2003 for a range of different E&P companies. It specializes in 'hard rock' processing in structurally complex geologic environments ranging from Bolivia to the North Slope of Alaska and has special competence in anisotropic imaging, fracture detection, and onshore processing using pre-stack depth migration techniques.

Business offering

NEOS works closely with oil and gas company exploration departments. 'It becomes a bit of an adjunct exploration function in some situations,' Mr Friedemann says. Typically small and medium sized oil and gas companies have many seismic experts, but not so many experts in non-seismic technologies, so NEOS can fill this gap.

A typical project involves highgrading acreage and identifying potential drilling prospects from a range of data, Mr Friedemann says.

This is usually provided in the form of 'interpreted products' that integrate and interpret all G&G measurements. A unique NEOS offering involves the application of statistical predictive analytics techniques to all of the multi-physics geo-datasets and interpretive products NEOS has in its possession. The company identifies attributes that correspond to known fields or shale sweet spots, and then mathematically searches for these same correlative attribute suites in underexplored areas.

The company's projects often progress in a series of stages. The first stage of the work, which goes under the name 'neoSCAN', is an analysis of existing data and what is available in the public domain.

The second step, which it calls 'neoBASIN', is to commission new airborne measurements, perhaps new ground electromagnetic data, and integrate and interpret it.

The third step, 'neoPROSPECTOR', is to identify possible prospects in the subsurface by acquiring and interpreting finely sampled 3-D seismic and EM data over the most promising neoBASIN lead areas.

NEOS works for both E+P companies and for governments.

For E+P companies, it does both proprietary work and multiclient work, or projects which are a mixture (they are commissioned by one client but the data is typically made available for purchase by other companies after an exclusivity period).

For governments, it performs very large scale surveys, up to the size of the entire country. In these instances, NEOS may be asked to highgrade more than oil & gas acreage, but also to map other natural resource targets including metals, minerals, geothermal and groundwater. The outcomes help the country gather initial data which might encourage other industrial companies to commission more detailed geophysical surveys help the sovereign government portray the country's natural resource deposits in the most attractive light.

Until now, 95 per cent of the company's work has been hydrocarbon related. But Friedemann expects that to change. 'A lot of the techniques that we use came out of the mining industry - where non seismic methods are more prevalent. As we increasingly serve sovereign governments and natural resource ministries, I expect the number of mining and non-hydrocarbon projects will increase,' he says.


NEOS is particularly strong in 'hyperspectral' surveys, using equipment in an aeroplane to gather and analyse light reflected from the earth's surface in a much broader range than satellite 'multispectral' data does.

A typical multispectral survey will typically survey 10 'bands' on the visible light spectrum (each 'band' could be considered a colour).

But the hyperspectral survey can get 300-400 bands, going further into non-visible light (infrared, and ultraviolet).

The logic is that hydrocarbons deep down in the earth will gradually seep up to the surface, and their presence in the soil can be detected either directly, or sometimes indirectly by looking for mineral or vegetative anomalies.

By analysing the density and location of these direct and indirect hydrocarbon indicators, one can try to work out the pathway the hydrocarbons may have taken towards the surface. If more hydrocarbons than expected have migrated to the surface, that could indicate a fault, providing an easy pathway.

NEOS recently completed a 'country scale' exploration project in Lebanon, on behalf of the Energy Ministry, including a hyperspectral survey, which showed indicators of oil seeps near the surface.

'We just surveyed a big part of Lebanon, partly offshore, and the northern part of onshore, and we saw prolific evidence of oil seeps,' he says. 'That's a really positive indicator that you have source rock in the subsurface. This wasn't necessarily an expected result, but is certainly encouraging from the point of view of the government and people of Lebanon.'

The value of non-seismic

Seismic is certainly the most important survey technology, with about 95 per cent of exploration survey budgets spent on it, Mr Friedemann says. But the value of other technologies can often get overlooked.

Mr Friedemann says that exploration technologies could be looked at in a similar way to the range of technologies to help doctors understand the human body. The ultrasound survey (which could be seen as the acoustic equivalent to seismic) is extremely useful in understanding certain medical conditions, such as the presence of a mass or the health of a foetus. But doctors also use a variety of other techniques, including X-rays, blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, which all tell something unique.

'We're doing a similar thing,' he said. 'The seismic data is going to tell us about the hard structure of the subsurface. 'These other measurements tell us [for example] how deep the basement is or what its rocks are comprised of, what's going on structurally and thermally. We use electromagnetics (EM) to help us see how resistivity might be changing. That can tell us what's happening within structures, what fluids they contain.'

Aerial survey methods (which can include gravity, EM and hyperspectral) can be very useful in screening out which parts of the terrain are worth more attention, or are not.

Consider that onshore seismic surveys can cost 30 to 40 x more than aerial surveys per square kilometre, if you put together the costs of acquisition, processing and interpretation.

If the aerial survey can identify a single square kilometre which is not worth doing a seismic survey on, that is a big saving.

Also, since aerial surveys only involve 1 or 2 pilots during acquisition whereas seismic might involve dozens or even a hundred acquisition personnel, airborne surveys do not come with as high a safety risk as land based seismic surveys, he said.

Basement rock composition

NEOS was asked to investigate an idea from the chief geophysicist of one of the world's 'largest and most technically respected' oil companies, that the likelihood of oil being present could be linked to the composition of the basement rock, Mr Friedemann says.

The geophysicist was working on the theory that the source-rock reservoir temperature would be linked to different lithologies (types of rocks) comprising the basement. He believed that different rocks would conduct different amounts of heat, and that these temperature differences would result in differences in what fluids his wells produced - oil where the basement rock conducted less heat, and gas where a different basement rock conducted more heat. The NEOS work showed that the chief geophysicist was, in fact, correct.

The way NEOS solved the problem was through an integrated analysis of gravity, magnetic and electromagnetic measurements. By analysing differences in density, magnetic susceptibility and resistivity properties in the basement rock, NEOS was able to identify and map different basement rock types and correlate these differences to the gas vs. liquids content of the production flowstreams from the wells that had been drilled.


One of the hardest elements with non-seismic data is coming up with the right workflows for using it all together, Mr Friedemann says.

NEOS has developed workflows which it believes no other companies have.

For example it has developed workflows for combining well log resistivity data from wells with ground- or seafloor-based magnetotelluric (MT) data and even active-source EM data acquired from planes and helicopters. The well data provides detailed measurements, but only in the specific locations (and down to the measured depths) of the wells that have been drilled. The ground- or seafloor-based MT receivers help fill in this picture using receivers which are placed on the ground for 8-24 hours, and analyse how the sun's solar radiation interacts with the earth's magnetic field.

Associated Companies
» NEOS GeoSolutions
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