Exploration Seismology and Resources: Energy and Mining

Exploration Seismology and Resources: Energy and Mining

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B. Dragoset, F. Aminzadeh, P. de Groot, and J. Louie/IRIS Consortium

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Seismic Imaging of Ocean Structure


The petroleum industry relies on high-resolution seismic surveying to map oil and gas reservoirs at depths of up to 7 km. Though costly, 3D seismics yield the detail necessary to image the faults and complex sedimentary features that can trap energy reserves. This 3D “sonogram” traces the origin and properties of rock layers and reveals the most likely targets for drilling and extraction. Using 3D seismic imaging, industry has cut the number of nonproducing “dry” holes by more than half since 1990. (Ship image from B. Dragoset, 2005. The Leading Edge, 24:S46– S71, and Western Geophysical. “F3” seismic data and analysis from F. Aminzadeh, and P. de Groot, 2006, Neural Networks and Other Soft Computing Techniques with Applications in the Oil Industry, EAGE Book Series, ISBN 90-73781-50-7. Visualization by J. Louie.)

Seismic reflection methods are the medical ultrasound of “mother” Earth. They produce the highest-resolution images of the subsurface, and have been adopted globally by industry as an essential and cost-effective method of finding, developing, extracting, and managing energy, mineral, and groundwater resources. Industry enthusiastically adopted 3D seismic reflection imaging more than 20 years ago to image structural and reservoir complexity, and more recently has developed 4D, or timelapse repeat surveys, to monitor reservoir mechanical and fluid changes during resource extraction. This is increasingly accompanied by monitoring of production-induced microearthquake activity. Three-dimensional seismic reflection has enjoyed moderate usage in the coal industry, especially to delineate coal-bed methane deposits, and is likely to grow as easily accessible deposits are exhausted. Seismology is less commonly used in mineral exploration and development, but has great potential for growth; pioneering work outside of the United States has proven valuable in mapping mineral deposits. Challenges exist in adapting the petroleum industry tools to nonlayered and steeply dipping targets in crystalline rocks. Seismic imaging has also been used to track mining-induced stress changes in the rocks that lead to “mine bumps,” induced earthquakes, and cavern collapses, and plays a key role in mining safety measures. Similar coupled imaging and microearthquake monitoring holds great potential for geothermal energy exploration and production.

Date Taken: February 18, 2009
Photographer / Contributor: B. Dragoset, F. Aminzadeh, P. de Groot, and J. Louie

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