Pre-Show Focus

Andrew Long sums up our ten presentations at IMAGE 2021 and critiques the AAPG-SEG event merger's efforts to adapt to an inclusive, hybrid conference model while delivering a technical program that reflects a greater balance of renewable and fossil fuel resources.

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A Complex Program Reflects on an Increasingly Complex Future

There is no doubt that the Covid pandemic has completely shaken up the professional societies used to generating income from a multitude of live gatherings each year. Struggling for survival, the SEG and AAPG societies agreed to merge their annual US-based events into an ‘IMAGE’ conference for the next five years—starting in 2021 with ‘IMAGE21’. Despite this merger, ongoing pandemic-related travel uncertainties have reportedly resulted in pre-registrations for live attendance at IMAGE21 at about one-third of traditional SEG conference numbers. Time will tell how much further change is necessary for the professional society models to ensure their survival.

Nevertheless, the IMAGE21 technical program is packed with diverse content—albeit confusing to dissect. Part of this diversity is understandable given the more geological nature of AAPG events by comparison to the geophysical nature of SEG events. More importantly, it also reflects the start of a necessary path towards true geoscience and engineering integration as the global energy industries transition to a much greater balance of renewable and fossil fuel resources.

Rather frustratingly, the respective submissions to the original AAPG and SEG events are not equally accessible. The SEG expanded abstracts are all available in PDF format in the SEG Technical Library, whereas the short AAPG text-only summaries can only be viewed by hovering the mouse cursor over the respective topic in the online IMAGE21 program. It is correspondingly difficult to navigate the full technical program without grinding your way through both the PDF and online programs together. If you are navigating the online program, session names starting with “Theme” correspond to the original AAPG event, and all other sessions correspond to the original SEG event.

Almost Online but Could Do Better

Anyone who has attended past SEG events in person will appreciate how congested the live events have become, with seemingly a dozen or more simultaneous sessions of potential interest at any given time of day. Two benefits of Covid-led virtual conferences have been that

  1. The entire program is recorded and available on demand for a limited time afterward (you don’t have to miss anything)
  2. Pre-recorded presentations often have a higher quality and consistency than live versions (easier for non-native English speakers or less proficient speakers to capture their message). However, although IMAGE21 offers much content of relevance to almost anyone, only part of that content is available online to those who registered for virtual participation. Presumably done to encourage higher-paying in-person registrations, the tactic seems to have failed and is frustrating for those of us unable to safely travel to the US, or those not granted permissions by their US employers to attend in-person.

Only six of the 21 possible Panel Sessions are accessible online, and only five of the 15 Special Sessions are accessible online, although encouragingly, 20 of the 21 Short Courses and Workshops are accessible online.

As one might expect, the Panel Session and Special Session themes include challenges and opportunities to those looking beyond traditional oil and gas in a world increasingly connected online; new technologies for the acquisition and imaging of seismic data; exploration growth areas such as the Black Sea, China, and Brazil; and topics such as urban geophysics, planetary geophysics, environmental and hydrogeology pursuits, and so on. Enormously popular at SEG 2020, the ongoing geoscience investigations of the Martian surface again feature this year.

Personally, I have found that the post-convention workshop program has become more interesting than the main SEG technical program in recent years; largely due to the greater time allowance for experts to explore a common passion over a half-day or full-day event. Consistent with the SEG-AAPG alliance, the Short Course and Workshop themes explore a variety of specific geological themes, and explore emerging high-profile geophysical interests in carbon capture and storage (CCS), distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) fiber optics, machine learning, and minerals geophysics/multiphysics. In contrast to previous SEG events, however, there are no longer several traditional seismic acquisition or imaging themes—those have instead been relegated to Special Session events, most of which are not accessible online.

PGS Creativity and Innovation

PGS has a compact contribution of ten nevertheless highly relevant presentations at IMAGE21. I will expand upon the content of each abstract later this week, but Guangui Huang will introduce a new full waveform inversion (FWI) solution that minimizes the misfit function in an extremely robust manner to overcome cycle skipping, and Yang Yang builds upon several PGS innovations in recent years to combine velocity model building with FWI and least-squares RTM into a single simultaneous inversion framework with minimum data pre-processing. This simultaneous inversion truly is a game-changing realization of several decades of industry ambition: expect to hear a lot more on this breakthrough.

On the towed streamer acquisition front, Martin Widmaier showcases the latest achievements in ultra wide-tow multi-source acquisition to improve near offset coverage and both source and receiver wavefield sampling without sacrificing survey efficiency. The quantitative interpretation (QI) benefits of this type of acquisition platform in a multi-azimuth survey setting are also showcased by Cyrille Reiser, who will also illustrate robust QI workflow strategies in frontier settings.

There is no doubt the efficiency gains enabled by PGS technology in a 30-year industry leadership have transformed 3D and 4D marine seismic from ambitious dreams to global reality. That journey never ends, and Trygve Skadberg introduces a family of barnacle mitigation solutions used collectively in offshore Brazil to reduce survey risks and downtime. We should also not forget that innovations in seismic imaging technology facilitated by multisensor acquisition platforms continue to provide new insights into old data. Correspondingly, Susana Tierrablanca will share revitalized legacy data along the Flextrend of the northern GOM that used cutting-edge imaging tools to successfully image Sub-Salt and Pre-Salt plays.

PGS continues to also deliver new paradigms in marine seismic technology. Stian Hegna will show how to image the subsurface without an active source: the acoustic signals associated with the seismic vessel may instead provide a viable seismic solution in the most environmentally restrictive settings.

Finally, the revitalized interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and various implementations of machine learning (ML) is being synthesized into all aspects of PGS’ operations. Starting with a broad view of how seismic processing has evolved over seventy years, Tony Martin defines ML pursuits into ‘framework’ applications (ML-enabled algorithms) vs. ‘standalone’ applications (ML replacement of an algorithm), and Elena Klochikhina illustrates how a U-Net neural network can be trained to remove migration artifacts in a variety of global geological settings.