SEG @75

The rapid rise of reservoir geophysics
WAYNE D. PENNINGTON, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA


n 1980 and again in 1985, on the occasions of the 50th anniversary of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the 50th anniversary of publication of GEOPHYSICS, special issues of that journal were published. In both those times, as now, the science was flourishing. The science described in those issues was directed toward exploration, but many of the methods were to form the basis for a new application, here called reservoir geophysics. In 1980, oil prices were at record highs, and in 1985 they were about to plummet; at the time of this writing, prices are again at local highs, accompanied by a renewed enthusiasm for the sound application of the science. The acceptance of 3D seismology as a cost-effective tool for reservoir management was the single most important aspect in the growth of reservoir geophysics. As such, most of the history of reservoir geophysics parallels the history of 3D seismology. On the other hand, a wide variety of different techniques within specialty areas of geophysics was developed simultaneously; although these are not as widespread or wellknown as 3D seismic, they are extremely valuable tools in the arsenal of reservoir management. This brief history first describes the evolution of the acceptance of 3D seismic techniques for reservoir management, and then summarizes a number of other geophysical techniques used for reservoir engineering purposes. Of course, any retrospective is strongly colored by the personal experiences and biases (whether or not they are recognized as such) of the author, who assumes full responsibility for any errors, particularly errors of omission.

Figure 1. Schematic workflow for the development of a petroleum reservoir, circa 1980.

of Petroleum Engineers, will include a chapter on reservoir geophysics, specifically to inform engineers of the assistance that geophysicists can provide. While the transition from exclusively exploration-oriented geophysics to reservoir geophysics may seem fast and furious, concentrated in the 1990s, a moredetailed reflection indicates that the movement had already begun by the early 1980s, when several developments took place in academia, industry, and the economy. The academic role in developing reservoir geophysics. Three key participants were: 1) By 1977, Amos Nur had founded the Rock Physics group at Stanford, and was later rejoined by his former student, Gary Mavko. An expansion into borehole geophysics in 1986 created SRB, the Stanford Rock Physics and Borehole Geophysics Project. This group has done (and continues to do) much to allow the interpretation of geophysical data in terms of rock and fluid properties, and of stresses around boreholes, both key applications of reservoir geophysics. 2) In 1982, M. Nafi Toksöz at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded the Earth Resources Laboratory, which by 1984 included the Full-Waveform Acoustic Logging Consortium under Arthur Cheng, and by 1985 the Reservoir Delineation Consortium under Roger Turpening. Both these consortia actively developed and tested new geophysical methods for the evaluation of reservoir and nonreservoir rocks through borehole geophysical techniques. 3) In 1985, Tom Davis formed the Reservoir Characterization Project at the Colorado School of Mines using multicomponent (and, later, time-lapse) seismic studies in reservoirs to define internal attributes such as fracture density and fluid content. This group is now on its tenth “phase,” having studied at least seven different fields. These and other groups in many different countries laid

Defining reservoir geophysics. Reservoir geophysics can be defined as the application of geophysical techniques within a known hydrocarbon reservoir. This implies that at least one well has been drilled into that reservoir, and may (or may not) be available for geophysical applications. It is this access to wells and/or to internal information about the reservoir that distinguishes reservoir geophysics from exploration geophysics, as well as the overall scale of the surveys. We can further subdivide “reservoir geophysics” into “development” and “production” geophysics, depending on the immediate application: Development geophysics is applied to the initial efficient development of a field, whereas production geophysics is applied to the understanding of the field as it evolves during production. (In some instances, authors may use the term reservoir geophysics as a synonym for “time-lapse seismic.” This usage should be discouraged; time-lapse seismic is simply one aspect of production geophysics.) In 1980, the typical sequence of reservoir development followed a “classical” flow of information from one specialty to another, as shown in Figure 1. In 1980, the flow of information was linear, from one person (and specialty) to another. There was very little feedback between, say, the engineers involved in development and the geophysicists who may have been able to assist them. This has changed, of course. In fact, the new edition of the Petroleum Engineering Handbook, to be published by the Society


Their timing was good for the science. published in GEOPHYSICS). these will acceptance of the seismic aspects of reserbe discussed in a later section of this voir geophysics. paper S16. Of these. of 3D seismic studies by the engineering community.SEG @75 the foundation for much of the seismic work now included in proved to be extremely useful in the next stage—the acceptance reservoir geophysics. electromagnetic.conduct 3D seismic surveys over every major asset. and passive seismic.reservoir geophysics. as an abstract. most schools were training their stu3D seismic exploration in the Austin Chalk dents broadly. In the 1980s. lapse seismic study reported in the literand these new employees migrated into Figure 2. the abstract describing ket. Once again. This caught the mutual interests and capabilities. and some draversities continued during the low-hiring matic examples were shown at various period of the mid-to-late 1980s. geophysics. as well as ing relationships within their companies as a result of these being used earlier in the exploration process. who tended (and still for online browsing through the SEG tend) to request students who were Digital Library) with seven papers pretrained in one specific software package sented on 3D seismic methods and case or one highly specialized niche area. suddenly. But the real confirmation that the industry was going to of many industry geophysicists made them well-suited for understanding the normal-mode propagation of waves in the adopt the new technology and apply it to reservoir developborehole (compared with the ray-theoretical approximations ment and production arrived in 1991 when Shell described its suitable for most surface reflection studies) and the strength of experiences with 3D seismic. and this was becoming available through full-waveform and clearly demonstrating that reservoir geophysics was a costacoustic logging.7 in 1990.TLE in 1991). It was fortunate for the paper.tant milestone occurred with the publication of “Modern techvoir was suddenly a multibillion dollar question. also later expanded SEG abstract published by Nestvold in ogy. in histories. had been under production since 1949 and in decline since the petroleum engineers also needed input for well-completion early 1970s—resulted in nearly doubling the daily production designs.” It was inferred that Shell would compressibility of the reservoir rock. not reservoir. including borehole-based seismic. and each learned the advan. and about half to exploration.others (first. the big money was being (sessions Seismic 20 and Seismic 21) also described computer put into exploration. In part due to the poor job mar(see. and engineering. electrical. predictions stated that “. Although the value of 3D seismic for field development was and that finding new oil was the best way to make money. rather than production hire them. The growth of 3D seismic surveys in ature: “A study of fireflood efficiency” interdisciplinary positions bridging geol. RES 2.. allowing them breadth Expanded Abstracts). an imporreservoir compaction. mic data. microtional aspects of rock physics was key to the ease of industry gravity. and geotages the other could bring to their work. These relationships physicists were finally brought into the discussion of reser- S87 . geophysics. But the combination of new methods of seismic tion.attention of the managements of most oil companies. about half could be order to fill a certain immediate need. and the 3D seismic studies and interpretation applied to a field—one that transition to reservoir mechanics was natural.Shell (outside of North America). providing meetings. from the (Greaves and others. it is recognized that 3D is a powerful tool for of wellbore stability. Many engineers and geophysicists developed good work. The considered applicable to reservoir geogeneralized backgrounds of many of these physics. But then. for example. (While 3D although funding was always (and presumably continues to be) seismic methods were gaining the most popularity and attena challenge. the SEG of choice in employment upon graduaAnnual Meeting and Expanded Abstracts tion. the Ekofisk platform in the North Sea was recognized publicly as early as 1984 (“The value of 3D seismic observed to be “sinking” due to subsidence associated with in field development” by Gaarentstroom. Figure 2 is from Nestvold’s “3D rock and stresses in the formations—these values were needed Seismic: is the promise fulfilled?” SEG Expanded Abstract which by engineers working on hydraulic-fracture design. a necessary feature for wide application. the Chevron team demonstrated that cists had been schooled in earthquake seismology. without early specialization by Calcote and others in SEG’s 1982 into certain niches. of course. the classical earthquake training effective tool for the management of producing assets. and all large oil companies became aware of their lim. As it turned out. Many geophysi. mostly directed toward enhanca workforce for those companies that did ing exploration. By 1983. then as a paper in ited knowledge of reservoir-rock dynamics. and simulation studies incorporating the appraising a field and for providing valuable input into the development plan itself. Understanding the interior of the reser. Most geophysicists knew by the always entirely apparent.) industry at large that a few far-sighted The first 3D seismic surveys were perprofessionals within various companies formed as subjects of research and have championed these and other consortia at been discussed in various reminiscences a time when funding was scarce and the published in TLE’s “From the Other Side” applications of the science were not column.. there were significant advances in several other aspects of acquisition and processing with new and evolving interpreta.1. late 1970s or early 1980s that 3D seismic The education of geophysicists in uniwas technically feasible. at least for one nology in an old area: Bay Marchand revisited” by Abriel and company. students served them and their companies One of the papers described the first timewell when the discipline rapidly evolved. A number of 1991. In this study. This ran counter to the demands of included a session “Seismic 16” (available some recruiters. There was a techniques that allowed interpreters to manage and view 3D seiswidespread conviction that the price of oil would never drop. presentations at the 1983 Annual Meeting The oil and gas industry. SPE 13049).

if not through their own efforts. although volatile in the short term. is all in the details. voir engineering and production on a larger scale. developed some experience with 3D seismic methods. Fortunately. Some companies and managers made opening of the lines of communication easy. Companies had to be convinced that there was actually an economic benefit to be realized in applying reservoir geophysics. Following the oil-price collapse of the 1980s. these were already in place as a result of their earlier experiences in geomechanical and well-completion studies.. oil prices remained more-or-less steady through 2003 (Figure 4). The development of many of the techniques that ultimately found applications in reservoir geophysics had begun when the price of oil was very high. The additional pieces required to make reservoir geophysics a mainstream aspect of reservoir management were (1) confidence of management in the geophysicists’ capability to understand and appreciate reservoir engineering needs. the details varied among companies and even among different management groups. in constant year2000 dollars. by this time (1991).. With increased scrutiny of asset statements. but the dramatic rise in seismic surveys applied for reservoir studies was no doubt accelerated by the need to develop existing assets as budgets tightened.. rather than the rule. The correlation between the drop in oil prices and the rise in use of 3D seismic surveys (Figure 3) is only partially spurious. no doubt. rock-physics control. Although hard figures are impossible to come by. The availability of one or more S88 . U. Reservoir geophysics differs from exploration geophysics in three main areas: well control. less than 20 years after the phrase came to popular attention. and rock-physics integration with reservoir simulation. and most were open to considering the use of geophysics in their reservoir evaluations. Most producing companies had. it may be that more financial and human resources are being invested in reservoir geophysics than in exploration geophysics at this time . (Speculation about the relationship of reservoir geophysics with the oil-price run-up under way in 2004-2005 is premature at this time. it became increasingly “standard operating procedure” at most companies. Figure 4: Price of oil (first-purchaser's cost. in constant year-2000 dollars. from the Energy Information Agency). Exploration was a primary target of cost-cutting. Comparison of the growth in 3D seismic surveys (approximated from Figure 2) and the price of oil (first-purchaser's cost.S. Of course. The targets of reservoir geophysical surveys are more clearly identified. and the existence of at least one well means that the surveys can be focused. The gorilla in the room—economic issues. and the attention of most oil companies and oil-service companies was directed to cutting costs . and contractors were able to deliver the service worldwide. The science matured during the postcollapse period of the 1990s. As companies began to depend more on increasing productivity from their existing assets and less from finding new fields. Most companies were already familiar with the appropriate technologies through participation in academic consortia. it is likely to become more integrated with traditional reservoir management schemes over time. How did this affect the geophysicists who were needed to apply their science to the improved development of reservoirs? A few scientists actually found positions as geophysicists attached to engineering departments. But then the price of oil collapsed in 1986. The rest. and this continues today. and will not be attempted by this author!) As reservoir geophysics matured. Their relationships with some geophysicists allowed them to have confidence (although perhaps limited) in the field in general. the pressure also increased on reservoir engineers to ensure that they made use of all the relevant data that could be obtained. reservoir geomechanics.. and calibrated for rock physics correlations. because of its long payback time.SEG @75 Figure 3. and survey scope and design. made it difficult. Department of Energy). and (2) direct lines of communication between the geophysicists and engineers. but this was the excep- tion. others. These applications all became directly engaged in what we now call reservoir geophysics. Strong economic pressures helped drive geophysicists into making use of their talents in ways which they had not previously envisioned. showing short-term volatility and long-term stability from 1986 through 2003. Reservoir geophysics was seen by those geophysicists remaining in the business as a possible avenue to continued relevance and employment. calibrated to depth. borehole stability. in many companies. as they say. in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The groundwork for reservoir geophysics was laid during the price collapse of the 1980s. to the bone. in areas such as full-waveform acoustic logging. Specific aspects of reservoir geophysics. from the Energy Information Agency.

a group can be formed to address it. The primary advantage comes from a tremendous increase in resolution. Some changes are the result of fluid substitutions. and allows for 3D imaging if the surface components (sources for VSP and receivers for reverse VSP) occupy appropriate large swaths of the surface. whether to record shear waves generated by a specialized source or shear waves generated by conversion upon reflection. amazing progress has been made. Still. and these are typically established through calibrated seismic attributes. in some unusual circumstances. with essentially very large wavelengths) and the prevalence of steel-cased wells in oil fields. the application of other microseismic services is still developing. although the relationship of these events to information that is deemed useful to the improvement of reservoir performance is not always apparent. Department of Energy and its national laboratories. This area can be expected to continue to improve in capability and availability in the future. to address their needs. The dedication of these people cannot be overstated. reflecting the importance of North Sea assets. Placement of a string of seismic receivers in the borehole (vertical seismic profiling or VSP) or a source in the borehole (reverse VSP) accomplishes this. • Multicomponent seismology: The use of three-component receivers. It initiated the “Development and Production Forum” (D&P S89 . 3D surface seismic has five main benefits: • Attributes: While seismic attributes have become increasingly important for exploration geophysics. in an effort to decrease the decline of US-based petroleum resources (for author’s disclaimer. only to resurface again with improved technology and resolution. and a source in another well. while others are due to pressure changes. The timing of the first arrivals allows a 2D image of interval velocities to be obtained as a velocity tomogram.) This committee rapidly grew in size to more than 200 members. be due to chemical and physical changes in the reservoir matrix material. but included their own personal credit. • Passive seismic monitoring: Some reservoir management activities result in microseismic (and occasionally macroseismic) activity—small earthquakes—usually not detectable at the surface of the earth. Spatial variations in lithology and fluid content are among the primary goals of reservoir geophysics. corporate support.S. When the seismic events that accompany stimulation for hydraulic fracturing are located. But the word “exploration” is in its name. almost all of whom were active in one form or another. Each specialty has repeatedly been declared “dead” by practitioners and management. although not always.SEG @75 wells also opens up new geometrical options for the surveys. While hydraulic-fracture monitoring services can be considered “routine” by reservoir-geophysics standards. a small group of geophysicists decided that the overwhelming attention paid to exploration geophysics was resulting in the neglect of geophysics applied to reservoir development and production. often exceeding a full order of magnitude improvement over the surface data in the same area. the ability to use the natural bandwidth within the seismic wavelet increases. and the field of reservoir geophysics owes them their appreciation. timelapse electromagnetic surveys of reservoirs are now possible. and case histories have been published. it seems. Government funding for the development or improvement of many of these techniques was often through the U. the result is a temporally changing map of the fracture during its creation. Electrical and electromagnetic surveys. and government funding. injection) can also be accomplished. research support in reservoir geophysics is also provided through the European Union. SEG promotes the advancement of the science of geophysics and the ethical practice of applied geophysics. and still others may. venture capital. The problems with using these techniques are associated with their inherent poor resolution (they should be considered dispersive. see acknowledgments). and. If there is a need for something. which often requires loss of production. while not quite routine. Many of these techniques are due largely to the tenacity of a few dedicated visionaries of geophysics. allows the imaging of the plane between the two wells. Currently. has been demonstrated to enable imaging beneath gas clouds that overlie some reservoirs and to map fracture patterns and densities. The differences can be orders of magnitude (compare this with the fractional differences of seismic properties). Commonly grouped under the label of “spectral decomposition. Their funding sources varied. Deployment of sensors in boreholes has allowed detection of these events.” these methods exploit the highest-frequency components of the wavelet and their tuning effects in thin beds. It is strongly driven by the desires and needs of its membership. Development of extremely high-quality multichannel receiver strings has made the service affordable by minimizing acquisition time. In the 1980s. they are de rigueur for reservoir geophysics. The single most significant physical property that distinguishes hydrocarbons from brine is resistivity—hydrocarbons are virtually insulators while brine is an excellent conductor. and mapping of reservoir fluids from electrical and electromagnetic should be easy. and the reflected events can then be migrated into proper positions for a crosswell reflection image. It is a highly democratic institution. • Ultrathin beds: As the targets become more focused. • Geostatistics: With well calibration comes the opportunity to provide estimates of confidence in the results of correlation of rock properties through (calibrated) rock-physics relationships. As a result of these factors. as improvements continue to be made and case studies conducted. reservoir geophysics has expanded the application of 3D seismic and opened new opportunities for borehole seismic and nonseismic techniques. including inversion results. called the Development and Production Committee. Borehole seismic has three primary functions: • 3D VSPs: Getting either the receiver or the source closer to the imaging target (and below the weathered layer) results in a much higher-resolution image. (This is how things work in SEG. rather than just the dominant frequency component. The role of SEG. and they formed a new committee. • Crosswell seismic imaging: The deployment of a string of receivers in one well. • Time-lapse seismic: The repeated surveying of a reservoir has allowed changes in attributes to be related to changes in reservoir properties due to production. The mapping of events from other reservoir practices (usually.

engineers. and occasionally management. geologists. Most meetings were highly successful. causing a strain on the concept of dedicated small meetings sponsored by the larger society. although some did not break even financially. the electromagnetic researchers learned how to present results in ways that reservoir engineers could see a benefit.SEG @75 Forum) in 1991. A brief timeline drawn from session titles of SEG Annual Meetings and special sections of TLE shows a number of accomplishments (see box. Seismologists learned about the problems facing the engineering community. rather than common technologies. For example. The effect was a tremendous cross-fertilization of ideas and expertise. In this sense it was remarkably unique and beneficial—the participants in these week-long meetings (held at resort locations) included geophysicists. and found out that these were not always the same as the “problems” that the geophysicists had been working on. right). because there were no alternative sessions (other than truancy. And so on. which was frowned upon). S90 . where attendees were united by common goals. They were virtually forced to sit through presentations and discussions involving technologies with which they were not necessarily very familiar.

Suggested reading.SEG @75 There were times that the D&P Committee recommended that the SEG Executive Committee change the name of SEG to something more encompassing (my personal favorite is SEG: the Society of Extraordinary Geophysicists—where we are all above average). S91 . @75 Acknowledgments: The author gratefully acknowledges all the people who worked on the D&P Committee through the years. is there still a need for such a committee? Should the committee “declare victory and go home”? We are nearly all reservoir geophysicists now. Instead. 1992). Examples of typical advertisements published in GEOPHYSICS during the 1940s. This proposal was usually met with disdain. and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.S. and this article presents just one view. The best contemporary accounts of the development of reservoir geophysics can be found in the annual special sections of TLE from 1992 through 2004. His career has been divided between academic and industry employers and he is currently a professor of geophysical engineering and department chair at Michigan Technological University. the question presently facing the group is this: Now that development and production geophysics has become a major force—perhaps the major force—in petroleum geophysics. Pennington was guest editor for several TLE special sections on development and production geophysics and wrote the reservoir geophysics chapter in the new Petroleum Engineering Handbook (soon to be published by SPE). The D&P Committee no longer feels the need to exert its influence in these matters. The views and opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof. He was an early advocate of reservoir geophysics and chaired the 1992 D&P Forum on Monitoring Reservoir Changes Over Time. The journal is available for browsing through the SEG Digital Library (http://segdl. through the Tulsa office of the National Energy Technology Laboratory with Purna Halder as program manager. and who actively promoted the discipline of reservoir geophysics. Department of Cornell. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by project DE-FC26-04NT15508 from the U. but occasionally good-natured laughter. Each person’s recounting of the historic record will vary. About the author: Wayne Pennington has degrees in geology and geophysics from Princeton. Some readers may be interested in comparing the reflections made in this paper with the predictions made by Gordon Greve in “Geoscience in reservoir development—a sleeping giant” (TLE. Fossil Energy Program.

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