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Shell’s New Sensors Could Reduce Exploration Costs Dramatically

Offshore Oil Rig

Searching for oil and gas is an activity with uncertain success—an activity with a bit less uncertainty were it not for 3D seismic surveying. And this uncertainty could be reduced even further, thanks to technological advancements that Shell is currently testing.

Seismic surveying is the first step in any oil and gas exploration project. It’s an expensive undertaking that requires scattering thousands of sensors on the ground and then analyzing the data they register about the subterranean rock makeup that may or may not include oil and gas-bearing formations.

Besides expensive, seismic surveying is also quite cumbersome and complex. The sensors that transmit subterranean data need to be connected by cables, which takes time and requires an enormous amount labor and equipment.

All this may be about to change with a Dutch company’s novel seismic sensor that was developed as part of a hunt for gravitational waves among physicists. The concept of gravitational waves first appeared in Einstein’s theory of relativity and Dutch astrophysicist Johannes van den Brand, co-founder of Innoseis, was one of the researchers that went out looking for them. Related: Asian Refiners Reduce Production Rates As Demand Stagnates

The trouble with gravitational waves is that they are really tiny and difficult to detect, especially underground, where there is a lot of noise interference. So, gravitational wave hunters need to isolate their sensors to tune out this interference. Van den Brand was joined in his research by Mark Beker, an applied physicist, and after failing to find sufficiently lightweight and reliable seismic sensors they could use in their study, the two eventually decided to make their own.

Shell sensed the potential of Tremornet back in 2012 and used it to check a possible connection between seismic activity and gas extraction near Groningen in the Netherlands.

The company has been testing the sensor since then.

Tremornet is wireless and once put in the ground it only switches on to time-stamp fresh data. It’s lightweight and compact, it can withstand extreme temperatures and is bound to come in handy as oil and gas companies expand their exploration areas and cut their budgets. Related: Iran Aims To Double Oil Exports, These Are The Hurdles

Shell, for one, slashed its capex for 2016 considerably but is looking for new exploration opportunities, focusing on deepwater offshore projects and the shale patch. While the Innoseis sensors are unlikely to help it with offshore exploration (at least for now), the shale patch is another matter.

Shell spends hundreds of millions on seismic exploration. This could change soon, if the novel sensors prove their worth and cost-efficiency. Instead of the hundred thousand clunky, cable-dependent sensors that Shell is using now, the company might be able to stick a million Tremornets a couple yards apart, covering a huge surface at no change of price.

In an industry where cost-cutting has become the ultimate mantra, affordable and reliable exploration solutions are bound to be in great demand, since reserves replacement doesn’t happen on its own and it’s vital for the survival of any energy company. Chances are that if Shell’s tests of the Tremornet are successful, we’ll be hearing a lot more about it from its peers as well.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Marie Watson on September 29 2016 said:
    It is interesting that new technology might make oil and gas exploration much more affordable. I am curious as to what this could lead to. It makes sense that companies have to spend a lot of money on seismic exploration. Hopefully, they can continue to find good sources of oil and gas.

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