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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Scouting Technologies

Finding oil and gas in the early 1900s relied on luck. Early explorers looked for oil seepages, certain types of rock outcrops, and other signs that oil might exist below ground. Oil diviners, or doodlebugs, were also used. Today, technology has provided more than luck. Many exploration companies are small and are called "wildcats." Larger ones, such as Imperial Oil, are involved in all aspects of the industry including exploration. For more information on the history of exploration, go to our feature “Wildcats and Doodlebugs,” created by CKUA radio.

The explorer starts with a first hand look at the area’s outcrop and surface geological features. Sedimentary and reservoir rocks must be present. Also all available data about an area is examined, such as records from previous wells and core samples. Cuttings and cores from wells are important as they give geologists, geochemist, and palynologists (studies pollens) information on the age, chemistry, and porosity of a formation. Any data gathered is placed into a database that can be shared or purchased about a specific area. Reservoirs are covered with thousands of feet of rock that make it difficult to view the deposits. After enough proof has been gathered the exploration team must convince the managers and investors to do a seismic survey. With solid data as evidence, the company will approve the survey.

Waves, or a “shot,” are sent underground to create a visual image of underground rock formations. Geophones (jugs) are placed on the ground. Vibrations are created either by dynamite or by mechanical means at certain shot points on the surface, and the geophones record the waves that are reflected back. Different types of rock reflect energy waves back to the surface, thus creating a picture of the underground formations. With offshore surveys, seismic surveys are restricted due to their impact on marine life. To minimize the impact on marine life, air guns using compressed air are utilized to create the waves.

Two or three-dimensional seismic surveys, coupled with significant increases in computational power, allow the industry to develop fairly accurate models of the subsurface. While these models can be viewed on a desktop computer, three-dimensional models can be viewed in huge theaters with curved screens. These visualization centers allow the geophysicist to see into the subsurface. Three-dimensional seismic surveys enabled the industry to improve its success rate. Reserves are found with fewer wells, as well as with less waste and environmental disturbance.



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††††††††††† For more on the oil industry in Alberta, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.
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