The Art Of Discovery: How Are Upstream Sites Located?

We’re by nature creatures of curiosity, us humans. From modern medicines to the outer reaches of the universe, we’re pretty fond of the odd ‘discovery’ or two. When it comes to oil and gas, though, we’re all sometimes guilty of just assuming that it’s there for us to use – but how do we locate it? Although it would have made the lives of the industry’s earliest pioneers immeasurably easier, they didn’t just have ready-made maps land on their laps marking where and where not to drill for oil! Even today, scientists are still finding ever more advanced ways in which to locate oil and natural gas, worldwide. The team here at TriStone Holdings Ltd, a UK oil investment company interested in US upstream operations wanted to look at oil discovery, both old and new.

The First Documented Upstream (Oil Wells)

Evidence has shown that oil wells were being constructed in China as long ago as the fourth century, and that by only a few hundred years later, they’d also begun constructing bamboo pipelines through which to transport the fuel! The Chinese are known as being pioneers, both societal and technological, and it seems their history with the petroleum sector is no different, whatsoever!

Closer To How We Know The Industry Now

If you want to find the first examples of the oil industry as we’d more know it, these days, then you have to jump a bit further forwards than ancient China to the mid nineteenth century. In 1859, in the US state of Pennsylvania, a man named Edwin Drake (which is a suitable name, it seems to us, to accompany something as dramatic and exciting as the art of discovery) drilled the first modern oil well.

There’s actually quite a lot of popular debate as to whether the well constructed by Drake was the first drilled, but the typical consensus that it was stems from the fact that it was drilled and not dug, that it utilised a steam engine in order to power the drilling and that it was associated with an official drilling company. Drake was an upstream petro-pioneer in every sense, and his implementing of piping within boreholes revolutionised the way in which fuel would go on to be procured right until present day. So, from all of us here at our oil investment company, here’s to you Mr Drake!

How Are Upstream Oil And Gas Sites Located, Today?

It’s fair to say that we’ve come a long way since those first pioneers, all those years ago, and today’s methods of discovery are a little bit more advanced, to say the least… Nowadays, complex surveying techniques are utilised in the identification of prospective hydrocarbon locations. The most commonly used technique is something called seismic reflection imaging (SRI).

Seismic Reflection Imaging (SRI)

This method of exploration geophysics (also known simply as ‘seismic’) works due to the fact that there are acoustic variations between different rock layers (between shale and sand, for instance). This can be carried out onshore (land seismic) or offshore (marine seismic) and helps paint a detailed picture of the subsurface; and, in turn, the likelihood of any presence of hydrocarbons. The process works as follows:

  • Firstly, a seismic pulse/wave is generated. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is a by using a machine known as a ‘vibroseis’. This is basically a big truck (typically, several are used in conjunction with each other) that imparts strong vibrations into the ground beneath it.
  • The other – in our view, more fun – method is to use dynamite buried underground to generate that same kind of seismic pulse! Using this explosive technique is actually the more cost-effective and simple of the two, as well – happy days!
  • Specialist sensors called ‘geophones’ register the waves reflected off the various subsurface formations. With the recorded signals, geophysical surveyors are able to ‘map’ (in remarkably accurate detail) the state of the underlying geology.
  • Using this information, geologists can determine the viability from a potential hydrocarbon site, from an economic perspective.

Finding The Upstream In The Unknown

Of course, as known reservoirs deplete, geotechnical companies are finding increasingly sophisticated ways in which to locate previously unidentified reservoirs for upstream development. Shell, for instance, are using state-of-the-art visualisation technology to process more data more quickly, enabling the greater amount of mapping that’s increasingly being needed, to be done on both a manageable and profitable timescale.

And even in this toughest of tough years, the industry seems to be managing pretty well regarding upstream discoveries! According to OilPrice, in fact, this year is set to see the discovery of around 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). When factoring in a global pandemic, that’s only 2.2 billion boe down on that of 2019. That’s seriously impressive resilience on the part of the oil and gas sector.

Contact TriStone Holdings Ltd

If you’d like to find out about the upstream operations we’re pursuing as an oil investment company, get in touch! Contact TriStone Holdings Ltd today on 0800 055 7079 or by emailing us on [email protected]


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