BP goes global with seismic imaging technology

Buoyed by the success of seismic imaging that found an extra billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is looking to take its latest technology to Angola and Brazil.

The software used in the Gulf, based on an algorithm created by Xukai Shen, a geophysicist straight out of Stanford University, led to BP discovering the crude in an area where it had long thought there was none to be found.

Industry experts said the scale of the discovery 8 km below BP’s Thunder Horse field, announced last week, marked a major leap forward for deep water exploration — a costly business known for its low success rate and high risk. It is an example of how technology is helping deep water make a comeback after a decade when the industry has focused on advances in onshore shale.

The new deposit was found with software known as Full Waveform Inversion (FWI), which is run on a super computer and analyses reverberations of seismic sound waves to produce high-resolution 3D images of ancient layers of rock thousands of metres under the sea bed, helping geologists locate oil and gas.

It is more accurate than previous surveying methods, BP said, and processes data in a matter of days, compared with months or years previously.

While the discovery marked the biggest industry success for digital seismic imaging, the British oil major’s rivals are hot on its heels with similar techniques.

BP scientist John Etgen, the company’s top advisor on seismic imaging, said it aimed to retain its edge with a new machine it has developed, Wolfspar, to be used alongside FWI.

Penetrating salt layers

The submarine-like Wolfspar is dragged by a ship through the ocean and emits very low frequency sound waves, which are particularly effective for penetrating thick salt layers that lie above rocks containing fossil fuels, he added.

Mr. Etgen told Reuters that BP planned to roll out Wolfspar alongside FWI in the second half of this year at the Atlantis field in the Gulf of Mexico, where a large salt layer still hides parts of the site.

The company plans to expand the use of the technology to other big oil and gas basins, including Brazil next year and Angola at a later stage, he said.

“Seeing through very complex, very distorted salt bodies was the hardest problem we had, the most challenging,” the Houston-based scientist said in an interview.

In both Brazil and Angola, oil deposits are locked under thick salt layers. Brazil’s deep water oil fields comprise one of the world’s fastest-growing basins in terms of production. BP last year signed a partnership with Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras to develop resources there.

Billion-barrel oil finds are rare, particularly in mature basins like the Gulf of Mexico. But the scale of output from deep water wells means they can compete with the most low-cost basins in the world, in particular U.S. shale.

BP is far from alone in focusing on technology; all big oil firms have put a growing emphasis on digitalisation to reduce costs following the oil price collapse of 2014.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 9:41:16 PM |

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