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How Is A Seismic Survey For Oil and Gas Done?

Modern seismic surveying methods for oil and gas have come a long way from the technology that existed only a few years ago. Much of the equipment, such as vibrator trucks and geophones, (geophones are sensors or listening devices placed over a large area), are similar to those used in the past.  One of the most revolutionary innovations in oil and gas seismic surveying was the development of sophisticated computer processing software, along with satellite guided surveying methods. With computerized modeling that was unavailable a few years ago, a 3D model of the earth's subsurface can be drawn, pinpointing pockets of oil and gas. In shale plays, such as the Eagle Ford shale, 3D seismic surveying can help oil and gas companies identify fault blocks and shale thickness for more efficient well completion programs. Because different kinds of rocks such as sand and shale have different acoustic properties, geologists can interpret the information they get from seismic surveys to create a visual model of what lies below the surface, such as the one seen at the bottom of this page. Here are some photos of seismic surveying equipment.

Below is a seismic surveying vibrator truck or vibroseis vehicle. This model is The Hemi-60 vibrator which is an advanced seismic source production system designed for geophysical prospecting. According to the manufacturer, the 60,000 pound output vibrator offers broad band output and a high signal to noise ratio for the seismic deepest surveys.

Note the truck's large vibrator pad which shakes the earth, sending seismic waved down thousands of feet. The entire truck is jacked up on this pad as it is pushed firmly against the earth. These trucks have largely replaced the use of explosives in geoseismic surveying, since they can produce a wide variety of vibrations which penetrate the earth for a long period of time.

Seismic surveying vibration truck.

Below, photo of seismic surveying geophones, or sensors which are placed across a wide geographic area to record the seismic signals reflected from underground from the vibroseis vehicles. These sensors may be connected by miles of wire to a field transponder, which relays the data on to a field office for analysis.   Before any oil and gas seismic survey work begins, weeks of preparation are undertaken, including cutting right of way through wooded country and blazing paths where seismic survey field engineers can lay lines and drive vehicles. Long before any of that is done, property owners must be located from courthouse records and contacted with an offer to lease their land or grant permission for the survey to take place.

The image below (left), is courtesy of  Queensland Australia Mines and Safety showing geophysical prospecting or geoseismic surveying. Below (right), a sign warns motorists to watch for seismic crews ahead.

illustration of seismic surveying   Seismic survey crew ahead sign.

Modern seismic surveying crews doing oil and gas seismic studies utilize the latest in land surveying methods, including GPS satellite

aided instruments, as seen below.  (Right), geophones (blue) are probes stick into the ground a few inches to record seismic waves

generated by the vibration trucks miles away. Next image, the end result, a 3D seismic survey showing underground rock layers.

Survey instruments used in oil and gas seismic survey Geophones used in oil and gas seismic surveying 3D seismic survey printout.

Aside from searching for oil and gas, seismic surveying can be used to locate bodies of ore, coal, earthquake fault zones and more.

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