I’ve been writing about exploration technology for almost 20 years, and during that time many new products have hit the market. And as anyone who works in R&D knows, this does not happen in a linear fashion – some years are flush with new ideas while other years reveal more evolutionary than revolutionary technology.

An interesting thing about advances in seismic technology is how R&D is affected by market conditions. I’ve been told many times that there’s actually more innovation during downturns because people have more time on their hands; during boom times they’re too busy booking surveys to spend much time on the next great tool or methodology.

But I have to wonder if that metric, like so many others in the oil and gas industry, is no longer applicable. Oil prices have been robust these past couple of years, and seismic contractors have been going gangbusters trying to keep up with the demand for their services. Yet the recent European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers (EAGE) conference saw some truly remarkable product launches.

First was WesternGeco’s Isometrix marine seismic acquisition technology. The streamer system provides high-fidelity isometric point-receiver seismic data, overcoming spatial wave number bandwidth issues that have forced compromises in the past.

The breakthrough with Isometrix is its coverage in the crossline direction. Conventional streamers provide only coarse data in this direction and do not capture the entire wavefield. Isometrix technology enables the accurate reconstruction of the crossline seismic wave-field at spatial sample intervals formerly attainable only in the inline direction. The resulting data can be used for high-resolution near-surface imaging, deep reservoir characterization, and 4-D reservoir monitoring.

Also premiering at EAGE was ION Geophysical’s WiBand, a processing technique that obtains broadband results from conventional streamer data. While several companies have introduced technology that acquires broadband data through new streamer technology, ION took the approach of letting the data processing group sort that out.

image- salt

These images compare stacked data from a typical salt province section (left) with WiBand processing (right). (Image courtesy of ION Geophysical)

“We take advantage of the properties of the ghost,” said Nick Bernitsas, senior vice president of ION’s GX Technology group. “These properties are somewhat predictable. We can use those properties to then eliminate the ghosts.” He added that the new processing technology will give operators the opportunity to reprocess legacy data.

More recently, CGGVeritas announced its first full-azimuth survey with its StagSeis subsalt imaging technology. The dual-vessel, long-offset multiclient survey will be conducted in the Keathley Canyon area of the Gulf of Mexico.

According to the company, StagSeis provides improved illumination and penetration capabilities in complex settings such as subsalt structures. Its acquisition design is based on a staggered vessel configuration, very long offsets, and full-azimuth coverage using BroadSeis, its marine broadband acquisition system.

Back when oil was US $10/bbl and the seismic industry was tanking, I used to wish I had enough money to license some spec data, just to help those guys out. I think they’re doing OK now.