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Industry Boasts High-Tech Capability

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
An old fashioned industry? New generations of geoscientists – especially those who readily embrace techniques like 4-D seismic data – are making high-tech development a priority.
An old fashioned industry? New generations of geoscientists – especially those who readily embrace techniques like 4-D seismic data – are making high-tech development a priority.

Technology drives the oil and gas industry like never before. So when some of the sharpest minds in the business discuss important technologies for exploration, you definitely want to listen.

And you can have that chance at AAPG’s International Conference and Exhibition in Milan, in the forum “New Technology Directions in Exploration and Production.”

The forum speakers will offer insights from a wide range of technical, operational and geographical perspectives.

Invited panelists are:

  • Jean-Jacques Biteau, vice president exploration, Total.
  • Anelise Lara, reservoir subsalt manager, Petrobras.
  • Khalid Nouh, president-Middle East, Baker Hughes.
  • Mark Pospisil, senior vice president-geology and Geophysics, XTO Energy.
  • Cindy Yeilding, vice president exploration-Gulf of Mexico, BP.

As a preview, three of the speakers agreed to share their views on current and emerging E&P technology.

A ‘High-Tech Industry’

According to the forum organizers, the industry’s challenge today “is to develop cost-effective technologies that reduce the environmental footprint of their utilization and tackle such issues as global climate change.”

The oil and gas business also is undergoing rapid growth that demands new technology solutions, especially in unconventional resource development and in ultra-deepwater exploration.

Not surprisingly, advances in geophysics tended to dominate the initial look at technology direction.

Biteau sees a variety of technology tools assisting the explorationist, including some esoteric aids like advanced light-detection-and-ranging systems, commonly called “lidar.”

He identified non-seismic methods, outcrop descriptions using high-resolution lidar, fine-tuned geochemistry and seismic imagery enhancement as important developments.

“In petroleum geology, better understanding of complex, stratigraphic composed traps. And GIS for sure, with data management enhancement,” Biteau added.

Yeilding singled out the importance of new technology developments and improvements in geophysics that have led to better reservoir understanding.

“The geophysics is illuminating the geology in ways we haven’t seen before,” Yeilding observed.

“A lot of what I see is really good geology being advanced by imaging. People continue to be able to describe reservoirs primarily using seismic and core data,” she said.

Lara also emphasized the effect of new technologies on seismic imaging, and especially on the industry’s ability to model reservoirs.

“For Petrobras, the new technologies that are most important nowadays are related to deep offshore exploration and production,” she noted.

Today, technology is so important to the oil and gas industry that exploration has become a high-tech field, according to Yeilding. That should enable the industry to work with tech researchers, technology companies and others to develop new applications.

“The most important thing, and I’ve even said this to members of Congress, is that we’re a high-tech industry,” Yeilding commented. “I keep saying that, hoping it will stick.

“If people really understand what we do, they may see us as true collaborators.”

Going Deeper

New technologies and new techniques are combining to push exploration into deeper water and farther frontiers.

The oil industry has preferred target formations below limestone instead of below salt, thinking that targets below salt were subsalt and difficult to image, while targets below limestone were sublime.

But improvements in technology for seismic data acquisition, combined with advances in processing and interpretation, have led to a much better picture of subsalt prospects offshore Brazil, in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

In addition to technologies for better seismic imaging, Lara said other developments now enable the industry:

  • To enhance carbonate reservoir characterization and modeling,
  • To obtain real-time reservoir monitoring (4-D seismic, intelligent completion, downhole sensors).
  • To enhance well productivity (new well geometries) or to create less expensive wells.
  • To de-bottleneck offshore facilities (water-oil subsea separation, raw water injection).
  • To reduce processing facilities' footprints (compact oil-water separators, etc.).

Frontier exploration demands its own technological developments. As the industry moves into little-explored areas, new technologies will be needed to meet E&P challenges.

The Arctic, especially, will require new thinking and new advances in technology – and because of its resource potential, the work appears well worthwhile.

"I believe there's a significant exploration prize waiting in the Arctic," Yeilding said.

The forum also will address current and potential new technology for the production of shale gas, shale oil and other unconventional resources. Shale gas development already has produced a string of technology improvements.

Even more may be on the way, as research continues and the largest companies begin their own campaigns in the unconventional resources arena.

“It’s interesting seeing that people are starting to get into the fundamental geology of the shales,” Yeilding said. “That’s starting to lead to some real breakthroughs.”

She noted that many oil and gas plays now require thinking that’s outside the box and beyond the conventional, even if they don’t involve unconventional resources.

“In some of the reservoirs offshore, like in Brazil, people are continuing stratigraphic plays with success,” she said. “I think the industry is seeing success not only in unconventional plays, but also in these less-conventional plays.”

Faster! Faster!

Predicting the next breakthroughs in E&P technology isn’t easy, because advances are happening in so many areas. Nanotechnology is often mentioned as a promising front, and so are intelligent devices for the oilfield and new applications for lasers.

It’s startling to think how many new directions there are for technology to follow. Lara listed several areas where the industry can look for coming advances in E&P technology.

“In terms of emerging technologies, we can consider integrated reservoir geomonitoring and production systems, ‘plug-and-play’ FPSOs, nanoparticles for reservoir characterization, laser drilling and subsea processing,” she said.

The pace of technological change has accelerated, with improvement sometimes apparent on a month-to-month basis.

“A lot of the imaging technology has progressed rapidly. There’s an amazing amount of new acquisition technology that’s being tried and applied, very quickly,” Yeilding observed.

And when a new technology development arrives it quickly spreads through the industry, which has learned to adapt with speed.

“Technology moves around the world. It’s kind of a continuous improvement loop. They will strip out what’s best and try it in other places,” Yeilding noted.

“The whole concept is continuous improvement,” she said. “People see an idea and then build on it, and it’s just great to watch.”

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More about this forum...

A special 90-minute technology-focused forum, “New Technology Directions in Exploration and Production,” will begin at 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the upcoming AAPG International Conference and Exhibition in Milan, Italy.

The forum speakers will offer insights from a wide range of technical, operational and geographical perspectives. 

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