Fibre optic seismology at #GeoCon14

We've been so busy this week, it's hard to take time to write. But for the record, here are two talks I liked yesterday at the Canada GeoConvention. Short version — Geophysics is awesome!

DAS good

Todd Bown from OptaSense gave an overview of the emerging applications for distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) technology. DAS works by shining laser pulses down a fibre optic cable, and measuring the amount of backscatter from impurities in the cable. Tiny variations in strain on the cable induced by a passing seismic wave, say, are detected as subtle time delays between light pulses. Amazing.

Fibre optic cables aren't as sensitive as standard geophone systems (yet?), but compared to conventional instrumentation, DAS systems have several advantages:

  • Deployment is easy: fibre is strapped to the outside of casing, and left in place for years.
  • You don't have to re-enter and interupt well operations to collect data.
  • You can build ultra-long receiver arrays — as long as your spool of fibre.
  • They are sensitive to a very broad band of signals, from DC to kilohertz.

Strain fronts

Later in the same session, Paul Webster (Shell) showed results from an experiment that used DAS as a fracture diagnosis tool. That means you can record for minutes, hours, even days; if you can cope with all that data. Shell has accumulated over 300 TB of records from a handful of projects, and seems to be a leader in this area.

By placing a cable in one horizontal well in order to listen to the frac treatment from another, the cable can effectively designed to record data similar to a conventional shot gather, except with a time axis of 30 minutes. On the gathers he drew attention to slow-moving arcuate events that he called strain fronts. He hypothesized a number of mechanisms that might cause these curious signals: the flood of fracking fluids finding their way into the wellbore, the settling and closing creep of rock around proppant, and so on. This work is novel and important because it offers insight into the mechanical behavoir of engineered reservoirs, not just during the treatment, but long after.

Why is geophysics awesome? We can measure sound with light. A mile underground. That's all.