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A short guide to oil exploration

While early oil production was mostly aimed at paraffin production, the birth of the automobile industry created a new demand for petroleum products. There has been a consistent demand for hydrocarbon products ever since.

It’s not just about filling your tank at the petrol station either – much of the UK’s electricity generation now comes from natural gas, and petroleum byproducts are used in many consumer products, which are made by machines that need industrial lubricants like Mobile DTE 25 to function smoothly.

This is why the oil industry constantly seeks new reserves. Oil exploration is a costly and risky business, though, so it’s mostly large corporations or national governments involved. These large corporations sometimes even pool their resources, as was seen in the early days of North Sea oil when Esso and Shell combined their efforts in a 50/50 joint venture. It’s therefore a good idea to locate the best place to drill for oil.

The early days of oil exploration mostly involved looking for visual clues on the surface, such as oil and gas seeps, but geologists were eventually recruited to study factors like magnetic fields, rock formations, and minor gravity variations in order to better guess where there may be oil.

Almost 50 years ago, ExxonMobil pioneered a new technology called 3-D seismic imaging that would revolutionise oil exploration. This technology is based on how sound waves behave differently in various mediums. Geophones are used on the surface to record the sound as it bounces back up. This data can then be analysed by geologists and engineers to establish the likely rock formations and create 3-D images of the subterranean structure. Even with this helpful technology, however, engineers could generally only accurately pinpoint a reservoir about half of the time.

A logical extension of this technology is 4-D seismic imaging, which is a time-lapsed version of 3-D seismic imaging. It’s mostly used in existing fields to monitor changes in the reservoir over time and enable more efficient oil production.

One problem with seismic imaging was how only a portion of the vast and complex data could be used, but the recent development of full wavefield inversion has changed this. This new technology uses both synthetic and real data to create a model that more accurately reflects reality, ultimately meaning that all of the data can be used to create high-definition images of the subsurface.

High-performance computing has enabled many of the recent developments in oil exploration, and this trend will no doubt continue in future.

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