2018 Finalist: Outstanding Achievement in Science & Engineering sponsored by Alberta Economic Development and Trade
Solving industry problems with seismic data processing technology
Under the guidance of Dr. Mauricio Sacchi, the Signal Analysis and Imaging Group initiated 5D seismic data reconstruction, allowing contractors worldwide to improve the quality of seismic data and subsurface imaging of hydrocarbon targets. These developments have had a profound impact on the way seismic data is preconditioned and processed by seismic contractors.
What problem did you see a need to solve and how did you solve this real-world problem?
A lot of industry in Alberta is focused on oil and gas exploration and contractors dealing with data problems. The goal of oil companies is to improve images of the subsurface, improve data procedure and data processing. The seismic data processing techniques being used are not only restricted to Alberta; they are being used worldwide.
There are some big problems in seismic data procedure and processing and how we reconstruct seismic wavelengths. The data you acquire is never enough so we are developing algorithms to reconstruct the data to save money. It’s important because it improves the quality of the data and allows us to focus on other areas like imaging the Earth’s interior.
What has been the impact?
Some sophisticated algorithms that image the interior of the earth require high quality data. Oil companies require high quality well sample data and they weren’t able to use other algorithms because the data was not ready for the existing techniques. With our preconditioning of the data, the companies can use algorithms that then allow them to image the earth in high resolution.
When you are trying to understand reservoirs, one thinks that it’s all about geology. But it’s the mathematics and physics that allows you to write precise algorithms to image the interior of the Earth. It is a lot of high performance computing and numerical algorithms that are quite sophisticated to turn raw data into images. It’s not just drilling holes and sampling rocks; it’s how much you know about the rocks.
Has being in Alberta helped you find success?
When I came to Alberta in 1997 after doing my PhD and post-doc at the University of British Columbia, immediately there was an appetite from a couple of companies to invest in research at the University of Alberta. You can imagine: you’re an assistant professor and you show up at your first job and suddenly you have companies saying, “Let’s give money to these new assistant professors for research.”
Being in Alberta has helped because there are companies who are interested in this technology. Alberta is a good place for a person working with numerical problems associated with this imaging technology.
Who have been your major supporters?
It has changed throughout the years with NSERC helping fund professors in Canada and a consortium of companies supporting students to develop projects, including Chevron, British Geological Survey, Shell and ConocoPhillips. Over the past 20 years, we have had an average of six or seven companies per year supporting students.
These companies don’t only invest in projects, they invest in training. It’s a nice way for companies to access the next generation of geoscientists. We are going to train students in numerical analysis and imaging so when a company needs a person in that area, they know they can find them here.
What are the plans for the future?
A lot of exploration that is going to become more relevant is going to be exploration where the data is quite noisy. There is a lot of interest in techniques to precondition or to improve the data when it is contaminated by a large amount of noise, which happens to data recorded in the western Canadian basin.
There is a lot of interest now in looking at new tools for noise attenuation for high-resolution data, to acquire it and control the noise. Over the next four or five years, the group is interested in working with techniques to improve signals of offshore data. Then they will be interested in trying to continue research into elastic immersions, which uses mathematical tools to turn the wave equation into software that estimates the elastic property of the subsurface. This will allow you to characterize the Earth’s interior to tell you what kinds of rocks are present.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
It’s very nice. I’ve been working in Alberta for more than 20 years so it’s nice to be recognized by ASTech and by the University of Alberta. I’m very happy.