British oil’s superior BP has newly discovered 200 million barrels of oil in a hidden cache located in the Gulf of Mexico, all thanks to a breakthrough in technology that allows the company to see beneath geological formations that previously befuddled oil exploration for years.
The discovery could be worth about $2 billion in recoverable oil, its an underlined section of BP’s Atlantis field in 7,000 feet of water located 150 miles from New Orleans. The oil reserves were hidden by a salt dome that distorts seismic waves used by oil companies to map features below the earth by using a supercomputer and mathematical algorithm to interpret the seismic data in a new way.
This find is just another example of oil companies using advanced technology to make unexpected discoveries. The emerging of seismic imaging allowed oil and gas companies to model mineral layers below the earth’s surface and drill more precisely. The U.S. onshore shale revolution was unleashed by combining horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. BP’s imaging advance could now save drillers hundreds of millions of dollars in false starts and dry wells, and perhaps prevent them from passing up billion of dollars in oil hidden within reach of platforms and pipelines that already exist.
Salt domes have baffled scientists for many years. The formations trap oil and gas in underground pockets which makes for easy extraction, such geology in deep water is usually promising. But, previously companies hadn’t been able to image under the domes with much clarity.
For years scientists at the BP’s Energy Corridor office park worked to improve subsea imaging under salt domes in hopes of identifying new oil deposits. Then, last year a BP scientist who was fresh out of graduate school asked his bosses to borrow the company’s 15,000-square-foot per computer to run an algorithm he developed.
Xukai Shen wanted to use the machine for just two weeks, within that time he and his team were able to come up with a much more detailed image of the earth’s layers under Atlantis. Under traditional methods this analysis would require at least a year of painstaking data comparison for geophysicists. Shen and his team, however, did it in a little more than two weeks, all while creating a model that was much more accurate.
“It produced the best image of the field we’ve ever seen,” said Etgen, the project’s principal researcher. “We basically fell out of our chairs.”