Seismic Exploration - Shift in Research towards Improved Data Quality and Reliability

Published on 03 Nov, 2014

Seismic exploration is the process of estimating the properties of earth’s subsurface using reflected seismic waves released through sources such as air guns, vibrators, and dynamites. These seismic waves reflect from the subsurface rock formations and are recorded by seismic sensors such as geophones or hydrophones. The method is useful in detecting potential regions/areas of crude oil, natural gas, and mineral deposits.

In 2011, the global spending on seismic exploration was estimated to be 7 billion USD and was expected to increase by 30% annually. Overall, the global E&P spending is expected to reach 700 billion USD in the current year, up 6% from 2013 thus indicating increased activity in the domain.

Consistent Patent Filing Activity in Last Five Years

The research and development activity has witnessed growth over the years. Almost 800+ patents have been filed every year over the last five years. The research is focused towards advanced seismic exploration technologies - digital computer processing, improved energy sources, advanced acoustic receivers having multi-component sensor configurations and compositions, and three-dimensional (3D) and four-dimensional (4D) time-lapse seismic surveys. These technologies have raised the success rate of exploration efforts by up to 50% by ensuring more accurate placement of drill sites, ultimately resulting in more productive wells.

Seismic Patent Filing

The US dominates the research space with approximately 2500+ patents filed in the past five years. China and Great Britain have also witnessed an increasing patent protection primarily due to large gas reserves in the two countries.

Top companies focusing on efficient control of equipment and in improving the quality of data

WesternGeco - Schlumberger Technology is the leader in the technology space with 824 patents filed in the past five years. The focus of the company has been towards seismic data processing methods, removal of ghost noises from the seismic data received, controlling the position of the seismic data equipment, methods and apparatuses to conduct 3D and 4D seismic surveys. The other companies have focused its research on the same lines.

Company Number patents filed (2008 onwards) Key Focus Areas
WESTERNGECO - SCHLUMBEGER HOLDINGS 824 Seismic equipment control
CHINA NAT PETROLEUM CORP 381 Improved connections of seismic equipment

Source: Aranca analysis based on Thomson Innovation Data

Increasing research towards obtaining high quality & reliable data

Though seismic equipment control which includes use of streamer positioning devices and improved connections of seismic equipment by the use two or more seismic vessels are the key focus areas of the companies, higher emphasis is laid on the data quality. The quality of data is improved by attenuating the ghost signals – reducing noise received by seismic receivers.

Some of the innovations for reducing ghost signals include:

  • Improvements in seismic source designs
  • Use of advanced common mid-point (CMP) methods for data gathering
  • Development of seismic sensors

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