Entries in conferences (74)


Grand challenges, anisotropy, and diffractions

Some more highlights from the two final days of the SEG Annual Meeting in Houston.

Grand challenges

On Friday, I reported on Chevron's take on the unsolved problems in petroleum geoscience. It was largely about technology. Ken Tubman, VP of Geoscience and Reservoir Engineering at ConocoPhillips gave an equally compelling outlook on some different issue. He had five points:

  • Protect the base — Fighting the decline of current production is more challenging than growing production.
  • Deepwater — Recent advances in drilling are providing access to larger fields in deep water, and compressed sampling in seismic will make exploration more efficient.
  • Unconventionals — In regard to the shale gas frenzy, it is not yet obvious why these reservoirs produce the way that they do. Also, since resource plays are so massive, a big challenge will be shooting larger surveys on land.
  • Environment and safety — Containment assurance is more critical than pay-zone management, and geophysics will find an expanding role in preventing and diagnosing environmental and safety issues.
  • People — Corporations are concerned about maintaining world class people. Which will only become more difficult as the demographic bump of senior knowledge heads off into retirement.

The Calgary crowd that harvested the list of unsolved problems at our unsession in May touched on many of these points, and identified many others that went unmentioned in this session.

Driving anisotropic ideas

In the past, seismic imaging and wave propagation were almost exclusively driven by isotropic ideas. In the final talk of the technical program, Leon Thomsen asserted that the industry has been doing AVO wrong for 30 years, and doing geomechanics wrong for 5 years. Three take-aways:

  • Isotropy is no longer an acceptable approximation. It is conceptually flawed to relate Young's modulus (an elastic property), to brittleness (a mode of failure). 
  • Abolish the terms vertically transverse isotropy (VTI), and horizontally transverse isotropy (HTI) from our vocabulary; how confusing to have types of anisotropy with isotropy in the name! Use polar anisotropy (for VTI), and azimuthal anisotropy (for HTI) instead.
  • λ13 is a simple expression of P-wave modulus M, and Thomsen's polar anisotropy parameter δ, so it should be attainable with logs.

Bill Goodway, whose work with elasticity has been criticized by Thomsen, walked to the microphone and pointed out to both the speaker and audience, that the tractability of λ13 is what he has been saying all along. Colin Sayers then stood up to reiterate that geomechanics is the statistics of extremes. Anisotropic rock physics is uncontestable, but the challenge remains to find correlations with things we actually measure.

Thomas Young's sketch of 2-slit diffraction, which he showed to the Royal Society in 1803.

Imaging fractures using diffractions

Diffractions are fascinating physical phenomena that occur when the conditions of wave propagation change dramatically. They are a sort of grey zone between reflection and scattering, and can be used to resolve fractures in the subsufrace. The question is whether or not there is enough diffraction energy to detect the fractures; it can be 10× smaller than a specular reflection, so one needs very good data acquisition. Problem is, we must subtract reflections — which we deliberately optimized for — from the wavefield to get diffractions. Evgeny Landa, from Opera Geophysical, was terse, 'we must first study noise, in this case the noise is the reflections... We must study the enemy before we kill it.'

Prospecting with plate tectonics

The Santos, Campos, and Espirito Basins off the coast of Brazil contain prolific oil discoveries and, through the application of plate tectonics, explorers have been able to extend the play concepts to offshore western Africa. John Dribus, Geological Advisor at Schlumberger, described a number of discoveries as 'kissing cousins' on either side of the Atlantic, using fundamental concepts of continental margin systems and plate tectonics (read more here). He spoke passionately about big ideas, and acknowledged collaboration as a necessity: 'if we don't share our knowledge we re-invent the wheel, and we can't do that any longer'.

In the discussion session afterwards, I asked him to comment on offshore successes, which has historically hovered around 14–18%. He noted that a step change — up to about 35% — in success occured in 2009, and he gave 3 causes for it: 

  • Seismic imaging around 2005 started dealing with anisotropy appropriately, getting the images right.
  • Improved understanding of maturation and petroleum system elements that we didn’t have before.
  • Access to places we didn’t have access to before.

Although the workshop format isn't all that different from the relentless PowerPoint of the technical talks, it did have an entirely different feeling. Was it the ample discussion time, or the fact that the trade show, now packed neatly in plywood boxes, boosted the signal:noise? Did you see anything remarkable at a workshop last week? 


Standards, streamers, and Sherlock

Yesterday afternoon at the SEG Annual Meeting I spent some time with Jill Lewis from Troika and Rune Hagelund, a consultant. They have both served on the SEG Standards Committee, helping define the SEG-D and SEG-Y standards for field data and processed data respectively. The SEG standards are — in my experience — almost laughably badly implemented by most purveyors of data. Why is this? Is the standard too inflexible? Are the field definitions unclear? The confusion can lead to real problems: I know I've inadvertently loaded a seismic survey back to front. If you feel passionately about it, the committee is always looking for feedback.

Land streamerI wandered past a poster yesterday morning about land streamers. The last I'd seen of this idea — dragging a train of geophones behind a truck — was a U of C test at Priddis, Alberta, by Gabriella Suarez and Rob Stewart. I haven't been paying much attention, but this was the first commercial implementation I'd seen – a shallow acquifer study in Sweden, reported by Boiero et al. The truck has the minivibe source right behind it, and the streamer after that. Quicker than juggies!

I don't know if this is a function of my recent outlook on conferences, but this was the first conference I've been to where all of the best things have been off-site. Perhaps the best part of the week was last night — a 3-hour geek-fest with Evan, Ben Bougher, Sam Kaplan, and Bernal Manzanilla. The conversation covered compressive sensing, stochastic resonance, acoustic lenses, and the General Inverse-Problemness of All Things.

As I mentioned last week, I hung out every day in the press room, waiting for wiki-curious visitors. We didn't have many drop-ins (okay, four), but I had some great chats with SEG staff, my friend Mike Stone, and a couple of other enthusiasts. I also started some fun projects to move some quality content into SEG Wiki. If you're at all interested in seeing a vibrant, community-driven space for geophysical knowledge, do get involved.

I bought some books in the Book Mart yesterday: Planning Land 3D Seismic Surveys by Andreas Cordsen et al., 3D Seismic Survey Design by Gijs Vermeer, and Fundamentals of Geophysical Interpretation by Larry Lines and Rachel Newrick. We're increasingly interested in modeling, and acquisition is where it all begins; Lines and Newrick was mostly just a gap on the shelf, but it also covers some topics I have little familiarity with, such as electromagnetics. Jennifer Cobb, SEG publications manager, showed me the intriguing new monograph by geophysical legend Enders Robinson and TLE Editor Dean Clark — I can't quite remember the title but it had something to do with Sherlock Holmes and Albert Einstein — a story about scientific investigation and geophysics. Looking forward to picking that up.

That's it for me this year; I'm writing this on the flight home. Evan is staying for the workshops and will report on those. As usual, I'm leaving with a lot of things to follow up on over the next weeks and months. I'm also trying to sift my feelings about the Annual Meeting, and especially the Exhibition. So many people, so much time, so much marketing...


The future is uncertain

Image: Repsol, SEG. Click for the abstract.

SEG Day 2. In the session entitled Exploration and Uncertainty Analysis, I was underwhelmed with the few talks that I attended, except for the last one of the session entitled, Measuring time-map uncertainty

Static uncertainty

It is commonly uttered that different data processing companies will produce different results; seismic processing is non-unique, and so on. But rarely do I get to see real examples of the kind of variances that can occur. Bruce Blake from Repsol showed seismic imaging results that came back from a number of contractors. The results were truly shocking. The example he showed was an extreme case of uncertainty caused by inadequate static solutions caused by the large sand dunes in Libya. The key point for me is exemplified by the figure shown on the right: the image from one vendor suggests a syncline, the image from the other suggest an anticline. Beware!

A hole in the theory

In the borehole sonic session, Xinding Fang, a student from MIT, reinforced a subtle but profound idea: it is tricky to measure the speed of sound in a rock when you drill a hole into it. The hole changes the stress field, and induces an anisotropic stiffness around the circumference of the borehole where sonic tools make their measurements. And since waves take the shortest travel path from source to receiver, speeds that are measured in the presence of an artificial stress are wrong.

Image: Xindang Fang, SEG. Click for the abstract.

The bigger issue here that Xinding has elucidated is that we routinely use sonic logs to make time-depth relationships and tie wells, especially in the absence of a check-shot survey. If it works, it works, but if ever discrepancies exists between seismic and well, the interpreter applies a stretch or a squeeze without much thought. Some may blame the discrepancy on dispersion alone, but that's evidently too narrow. Indeed, we rarely bother to investigate the reasons.

There's a profound point here. We have to drop the assumption that logs are the 'geological' truth upon which to hang an interpretation. We have to realize that the act of making the measurement changes the very thing we want to measure. 


Past, present, future SEG

Today was the first day of the SEG Annual Meeting in Houston. 

Last night we wandered around the icebreaker, still buzzing from the hackathon. The contrast was crushing. The exhibition is gigantic — it's an almost overwhelming amount of marketing. My thoughts on what the exhibition hall is, and what it represents, are not fully formed and might be a bit... ranty, so I will save them for a more considered post. 

As usual, SEG kicked off with a general session — much better attended this year, but also much less ambitious. At least 300 members came to hear outgoing president David Monk's perspective on SEG's future. His address mostly looked backwards, however, at the trends over the last few years. I guess the idea is to extrapolate from there... But maybe we can do even better than recent years? We mustn't forget to do completely new and unexpected things too. 

At the end of his slot, Monk showed some animated renderings of SEG's new building in Tulsa. The movie was accompanied by an almost comically strident anthem — evidently it is a big deal. As well as having a smart new office, the real estate will turn in some smart new revenue from other tenants. Ground was broken on Friday, and the opening is expected to be in December 2014. As you see, the architects understood industrial geophysics quite well, opting for a large black box

At the end of the day, Canada strode home to yet another SEG Challenge Bowl victory as the University of Manitoba fought off the Autonomous University of Mexico and Colorado School of Mines to prove that, while Texas might be the home of the industry, Canada is the home of exploration geophysics. 

Where's all the geophysics? Evan is compiling some technical highlights from the day as I type. Stay tuned for that. 

If you're at the conference, tell us what you've enjoyed most about the first 24 hours.


Looking forward to SEG 2013

The SEG Annual Meeting is coming! The program starts tomorrow with the DISC, and continues over the weekend with various other courses. It's not part of the conference, but we're looking forward to the Geophysics Hackathon, obviously. Curious? You're welcome to drop in.

The meeting boasts 124 technical sessions totalling over 1000 PowerPoint presentations. If you haven't looked at the list of expanded abstracts yet, I can't blame you, it's a massive amount of content and the website experience is, er, not optimal — and there's no helpful mobile app this year. [Update: The app came out today! Go get it, it's essential. Thank you Whitney at SEG for letting us know.] I've tried to pick out a few sessions that seem really exciting below.

Worst. App. Ever.Each day at 10:30 am, I will be doing a guest presentation at the Enthought booth, showing some novel geophysics tools that I've been making. They are powered by Python and Enthought's Canopy environment. Come by and I will show you that you can too! However, I need somebody to please go to this exhibition booth 'browser' and show me where the Enthought booth is. Worst. App. Ever.

And each day at 11 am, there's a 2-hour mini-wikithon. Stop by the Press Room for a quick tour of SEG Wiki, and find out how you can help make it better.


With no technical presentations on Monday morning, it is safe to assume that most delegates will be wandering around the exhibition hall. A few may trickle over to the unenticing Opening Session which Matt and I found was horribly attended last year and the year before. Matt at least will be there, mostly out of morbid curiosity.

Continuing the Hackathon's theme on error and uncertainty, I will be diving into the session on Monday afternoon called

From 3-6 pm be sure to check out the always popular SEG Student Challenge Bowl. The global finals, are hosted by the crowd-pleasing past SEG president (and fellow Canadian) Peter Duncan. Top pairings from Universities across the world duking it out in a button-pushing quiz show. Come out, cheer on the students and test your own geophysics trivia from the audience.


The sessions that look appealing to me on Tuesday are


Agile's good friend Maitri Erwin is the instigator behind the Women's Networking Breakfast. All are welcome; consider yourself lucky to connect with Maitri. As for talks, I will try make an appearance at

The first one I know quite a bit about, but can always use a refresher, and the second one I know very little about, but it's been a hot topic for 3 or 4 years now. If we aren't worn out at the end of the day, we might find some tickets to the Bayou Bash.

Thursday & Friday

There are over a dozen workshops on both Thursday and Friday. As far as I can tell, they are basically more talks, each around a central theme. Don't ask me how this is in any way distinguishable from the technical program, and there is still a full suite of technical sessions conflicting on Thursday morning. It's a shame because I'm curious to attend the session Fractures, shale and well-log characterization but I don't want to miss Workshop 2, Grand challenges, which takes place all day on Thursday. Then on Friday there's Characterizing fractures (Workshop 15).

There are many other events going on, so if you see something good, make sure you tweet the rest of us about it: @EvanBianco, @kwinkunks, @maitri, @toastar, and lots of others — follow hashtag #SEG13. (Not #SEG2013, that's all marketing wonks).

If you'll be at the Annual Meeting, do look out for us, we'd love to meet you. If you won't be there, tell us what you'd like to hear about. News from the exhibition? Our favourite talks? Detailed minutes from the committee meetings? Let us know in the comments.

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