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Friday, July 21, 2017

Drones for Surveys, Methane Detection, Reservoir Characterization, More

Drones are becoming an almost indispensable tool in the oil industry, especially when it is necessary to inspect land, equipment and infrastructure in hazardous or hard-to-access conditions. Drones are also important for safety and security because the information is quick, accurate, and can be easily archived. But, those applications tend to be in the mid-stream (transportation and processing) and downstream (refining and distribution) segments of the industry. But what about upstream, in the exploration and development phase of the industry? Drones are used extensively there as well; they are just more subtle, and they do not create such a ubiquitous presence. This presentation reviews the main applications of drones and UAV-derived information in upstream oil and gas, which includes drilling and operations, as well as using drones for outcrop studies that are then used to create more accurate geological models, and better reservoir characterization. Be sure to watch the video which also includes a review of quadcopters with the best flight time

This presentation covers some of the most quickly growing uses of drone / unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) uses in oil and gas exploration and development:

Site surveys in tricky terrain: Building locations, determining the best places to put the equipment and all the trucks during hydraulic fracturing, as well as positioning gates, fences, and cattle guards can be significantly expedited by using drone surveys. Seismic surveys require an evaluation of the land ahead of time. Archeological and endangered species surveys are required on many federal lands.

Oil and Gas Exploration: Direct Hydrocarbon Indicators
Surface geochemistry has been used since the very beginning: the methane seeps around the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan, were indicators of vast reserves in the subsurface; in Tulsa “Creekology” usually meant going up the creek from where you saw an oil seep.
Now, a combination of methane seep detection and airborne gravity magnetics can be used to find “pinpoint play” reservoirs, such as pinnacle reefs in Michigan or serpentine plugs in South Texas.

Fugitive Methane Emissions
Methane detection is also used to detect fugitive emissions, which create safety hazards in pipelines and facilities.

In addition, EPA and BLM regulations require monitoring and reduction of methane emissions in oil and gas operations. While it is possible to mount static methane detectors or sniffers in compressors, gas gathering systems, and pipelines, they need to be maintained each year, and also installation can be slow. If it is necessary to install several thousand of them, the time sink can be significant. So, having airborne surveys has become a popular option. In the past, helicopters were used, because the sensors were heavy. Today, there are a number of quadcopters that have methane sensors onboard. There are different types of methane sensors, which range from sniffers, laser detectors, thermal (FLIR) with infrared, to hyperspectral.

Environmental Applications
Upstream operations must concern themselves water management, site restoration, archaeological surveys, rare / endangered species surveys, floodplain management, offshore / coastal erosion, flooding, spills, fires, and monitoring. In addition, drone surveys are useful in determining volumetrics, such as the amount of water in a pond.

Constantly Evolving Technology
Quadcopters are increasing in capacity, with longer flight times and better payloads (high-definition cameras, thermal cameras (FLIR), methane sensors, and more).  The weak link continues to be the issue of battery life: the lithium batteries average 25 minutes of flight time, and then must be recharged.

Sensors are evolving rapidly, and in the case of methane sensors, there is a rivalry among them, with spectroscopy, sniffers, optical sensors, infrared, hyperspectral, laser, and more.

Drones for Better Reservoir Characterization
Digital outcrop studies are useful in and of themselves, but when integrated with subsurface data of the same formations, the resulting models are truly surprising. They can be used to characterize reservoirs, and thus predict and depict heterogeneity, facies changes, lithology, fracture networks, and faults. The information can be used to calculate porosity and permeability, as well as to predict fluid flow and reservoir conditions.

While custom drones are used, many studies use off-the-shelf quadcopters, which are surprisingly affordable and have up to 30 minutes of flight time (bring extra batteries into the field).  

The key to developing an integrated reservoir model that includes digital outcrops and other information is developing a flexible and appropriate workflow.

  • Collect traditional information (outcrop data)
  • Digitize and georeference the conventional outcrop data
  • Collect satellite and drone-derived digital images of the same location (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate LIDAR (process and georeferenced)
  • Incorporate still photography (process and georeferenced)
  • Integrate all the surface data
Build a model using geocellular modeling with a program such as Schlumberger’s Petrel
After the surface digital outcrop 3D model has been created, it can be possible to find the corresponding sections and sequences in the subsurface, and then to create a cross section that reflects the seismic (synthetic seismogram) that has been correlated with the petrophysical and lithological data.  Relating the digital outcrop to the digital subsurface model can result in highly detailed seismic geomorphological models that reflect structure as well as subtle stratigraphic sequences and facies changes.

Getting started?
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