3-D Seismic Symposium: A 20-Year Institution

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
Randy Ray
Randy Ray

It started as a small, specialized meeting for the few people who then had an interest in 3-D seismic.

Today, 20 years later, it’s grown into something very big – and very special –not just to a lot of people, but the entire Rocky Mountain exploration community.

And that made its most recent rendition more than just one more symposium. It made it a celebration.

The 3-D Seismic Symposium, held annually in Denver for the last 20 years, has introduced new concepts, technological advances and launching pad-boosts for several careers – and led to greater cooperation between disciplines in the energy industry.

Geologists and geophysicists work together to put on the conference that yearly attracts up to 700 people for the single-day event.

Bill Pearson
Bill Pearson

Founders R. Randy Ray and Bill Pearson – both AAPG members, with Ray holding Honorary status – said the idea for the original 3-D Seismic Symposium in 1995 grew from a guidebook on the topic published by the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.

“We quickly realized there would be a high interest in this new technology of 3-D seismic,” said Ray, a consulting geophysicist and geologist in Denver.

“The expectation at the first meeting was for 200 people,” he said. Instead, some 500 attendees showed up.

The conference is a joint effort of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists and the Denver Geophysical Society.

“We’ve set the precedent of geologists and geophysicists working together in Denver. Now we’re seeing that more nationally and globally. Denver has always been a leader in how geology and geophysics fit together,” Ray said.

And that has benefits.

“This close camaraderie has allowed for great technological talks,” said Pearson, a geophysical and geological consultant at Pearson Technologies Inc. in Golden, Colo.

“The ability to cooperate between (professional) societies has helped,” he added. “One of the biggest battles of the conference committee at first was when we went for information that a company considered proprietary.”

Launching Pad

But because participants in the symposium often knew employees of those businesses, companies soon began allowing their representatives to present papers and talks on those projects at the conference.

Early on one of the primary speakers was AAPG member Michael Bahorich, now executive vice president and chief technology officer at Apache Corp. in Houston. He originally spoke at the 5 p.m. slot, but then was invited back a year later to deliver the keynote presentation on coherence technology, a topic he basically invented, Pearson said.

“It’s been a launching board for people in the industry,” Ray said. “People who were not well known in the industry become famous after speaking here.”

Other early speakers include the well-recognized geophysicists like Bob Hardage and Peter Duncan, both AAPG members and former presidents of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. Hardage, like Ray, is a former editor of the EXPLORER’s popular Geophysical Corner.

At this year’s meeting, Hardage presented the first public announcement of the BEG’s patented techniques for recovering shear wave data from existing conventional P-wave data. The revelation of this hidden content within already existing 2-D and 3-D seismic could be a breakthrough concept. Shear wave data is valuable for identifying subsurface reservoir fluids and has been too expensive to routinely acquire in most seismic surveys.

AAPG member Julie Shemeta, a consultant and president of MEQ Geo in Denver, was another early speaker on microseismic technology, Pearson said. Microseismic is used to monitor subsurface hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells.

“She was a big draw and became involved in the committee and became a co-chjair of several symposiums,” Ray said. “Our members on the committee draw in activity.”

Ray noted that many professional conferences are set up so a speaker presents a paper to at most 150 people in a room. In contrast, at the 3-D seismic symposium only one speaker makes a presentation at a time to a crowd of up to 700.

“We bring top scientists in,” he said. “It can be very effective to pass on their information to such a large group of people all at once.”

Of course, along with the triumphs, have also brought challenges over the past 20 years.

For example, many of the presenters have been first-time speakers, Ray noted. “Many are nervous talking to some 600 to 700 people,” he said.

And there was the weather challenge of 2009, when a Denver blizzard trapped many participants in airports and stranded others trying to get to the conference by road.

When one speaker couldn’t get to the conference, the planning committee called up local professional Murray Roth, senior geophysicist with Drilling Info (formerly Transform Technologies), who had addressed the conference before and asked him to fill in.

“He was at his office and came over in the afternoon and gave a great talk,” Pearson said.

A morning speaker that year ran overtime but had more drilling results, so he was asked to give a second talk in the afternoon.

“It was (AAPG member) Keith Johnson from Wolverine Gas and Oil Corp. who spoke on the Utah Thrust Belt Discovery – that was a hot topic then,” Ray said. Johnson is now manager of geophysics at Wolverine.

‘An Evolving Topic’

At its first meeting the keynote speaker was the well-known and highly regarded Alistair R. Brown, another past editor of the EXPLORER’s “Geophysical Corner” and author of the bestselling AAPG memoir, “Interpretation of 3-D Dimensional Seismic Data.”

“When we had our first meeting, 3-D was a brand new technology,” Ray said. “The conference has followed its improvement and refinement. It was used early on as an exploratory tool and now has become the ‘catscan’ that guides horizontal development drilling in resource plays.”

Angie Southcott, of WPX Energy in Denver, showed 3-D seismic geosteering horizontal wells in the Bakken play.

“Her outstanding presentation showed the practical applications for which the symposium is known,” Ray commented.

Now after 20 years, 3-D seismic is still a popular subject in the energy industry – “still an evolving topic,” Pearson said.

Ray and Pearson ran the conference for 16 years. They noted that members of the planning committee often stay involved for many years.

“The success of the 3-D symposium comes from the close-knit community here in Denver that formed the committee,” Ray said.

Some committee members have served on it for 19 years, also serving as conference speakers.

“What’s so remarkable is that the committee doesn’t turn over every year. People stay on it for years,” Pearson said.

Although the conference tries to focus on the Rockies, it also has brought in speakers to discuss technologies being utilized in Texas, the Midcontinent and elsewhere. It has even included a few non-U.S. speakers, Pearson said.

Attendees come from throughout Colorado as well as Wyoming, Utah, Texas and other states.

“About 25 percent of the attendees are from outside Colorado,” Ray said.

Student participation is also a key part of the conference.

“We always host about 50 students from the region’s universities to come. Now these students are becoming speakers and even serving on the committee,” Ray said.

Best yet, the symposium also helps to financially support the two professional societies that sponsor it.

“The financial success,” Pearson said, “has contributed a lot to the local societies.”

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