“It used to be that technology followed the business, but for future profitability the industry will need to be driven by technology,” said Dirk Smit, chief scientist-geophysics for Shell. “We should start thinking about how to manipulate the subsurface to what we want it to be.”
Mr Smit addressed a group of journalists on 14 February in Houston regarding his views on a paradigm shift in petroleum exploration brought about by new concepts in measurement and interaction with data. “It’s been too easy to get things out of the ground,” he said. “The industry does not sample and measure enough.”
He believes that finding more oil will depend on measuring more and a greater in-depth understanding of the subsurface. “Confirming the geological concept is even more important than finding oil,” he said.
The industry also needs to acquire higher-quality and a larger volume of subsurface measurements, made possible by the increased computing power that is now available. “We are no longer bound by computing power,” Mr Smit said. Sensors are undergoing change now to catch up with computers.
“We need consumer seismic – an order of magnitude cheaper acquisition systems, fast and efficient data storage, new imaging algorithms and a reservoir internet of sensors for real-time interaction,” he said.
Future upstream business will be driven by the industry’s ability to manipulate the subsurface. Within the next decade, our industry will be driven by technological capability. There will be more pressure to understand the subsurface more precisely.
Last year, Shell and HP announced a collaboration to develop a wireless sensing system to acquire extremely high-resolution seismic data on land. By delivering a much higher channel count and a broader sensor frequency range than are currently available, the new system promises to vastly improve the quality of seismic data.
Shell has also partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue new energy technology solutions that will include next-generation applications in computer modeling. The companies aim to develop novel sensors to detect physical and chemical properties under extreme and remote conditions.
Further, Shell and PGS are developing an ultra-high channel count fiber-optic seismic sensing system. Higher channel counts with high-quality sensors recover more seismic energy and help cancel noise. Shell intends to use this optical sensing system, based on PGS’ existing marine fiber-optic technology, for onshore exploration and reservoir monitoring. It will enable scalability beyond what is currently available. It could also overcome challenges with conventional systems when scaling up the number of channels.