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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


UH physics leads new way to oil†

A UH physics professor will lead a team of graduate students to attempt to solve one of the oil industry’s main challenges: accurately locating oil beneath the water’s surface.

Physics professor Arthur Weglein, along with his colleagues and graduate students, derived a method from the inverse scattering series that allows for the location and delineation of a petroleum target without any information needed above the target.’

‘What we are doing is a fundamentally new approach to seismic imaging,’ Weglein said.

Currently, oil and gas companies send sound waves toward a surveyed area. The waves are sent back to the surface, and the amount of time this takes, coupled with the speed sound travels through various materials, can be used to determine the composition of rocks under the ocean. ‘

Imperfections like salt domes can cause the sound waves to bounce around beneath the rock’s surface. This causes them to take longer to return to the detectors, making the data difficult to interpret, Brett Clanton said in an Oct. 1 Houston Chronicle article.

Weglein’s technique will combine data gathered from multiple readings to more accurately determine the composition of the subsurface rock layers.

The inability to adequately determine the rock type above a potential hydrocarbon target is a leading cause of drilling failure in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.’

This new imaging technique by Weglein’s team uses the same basic formulas to remove multiple reflected waves, a form of coherent noise, without requiring subsurface information.’

The discovery comes at a time when offshore deepwater drilling is becoming more attractive as onshore and shallow water oil reserves are experiencing decreased production.

‘ ‘Oil and gas companies realize that deepwater drilling is the new frontier,’ Cathy Landry of the American Petroleum Institute said. ‘While it has both high risks and high rewards, technology is allowing this field to have a bright future.”

‘ In addition to the current technical challenges, oil and gas companies face significant economic hurdles. Millions of dollars are spent annually to map the location of salt deposits.’

In addition to advancing deepwater drilling, the research also has non-invasive medical technology and national security implications. It can evaluate internal organs or tumors in the body.’

Weglein is also mindful of how the research can affect his students’ careers.

‘ ‘Solving the actual prioritized problems that industry faces also serves and aligns with the advancement of scientific knowledge and predictive capability and the interests of students in their professional careers,’ Weglein said.

Weglein will deliver a keynote presentation at the European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers’ Subsalt Imaging Workshop in Cairo, Egypt, in November, where he will present his most recent research findings.

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