Vintage data to smart exploration

Photo by M. Scott Moon Brandyn Hawkes drills a shot hole with one of the potable drilling machines Feb. 9, 2012 during seismic testing for Buccaneer Energy Alaska in Kenai.

During the last few years, the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet areas have seen several independent oil and gas companies conduct massive seismic data gathering campaigns.


Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan called it the largest seismic effort the area has ever seen in a recent presentation to the Alaska Legislature.

The benefits of this groundswell of seismic data are three-fold, officials said — it not only boosts the area’s economy but also provides companies a better picture of the subsurface geology and is a bellwether for exploration and production to come.

All considered, busy seismic crews are good signs, said Kara Moriarty, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

“If they didn’t have development plans on the horizon, they wouldn’t be shooting seismic,” she said in a recent interview with the Clarion. “They just don’t go shoot seismic to just see what is there. They shoot seismic and then develop a plan to make those potential opportunities come to fruition.”

At least four major companies have been, or plan to shoot seismic in the area including Nordaq, Buccaneer, Apache and Hilcorp.

“Now that the Cook Inlet area is seeing a revival of interest by oil and gas companies, the principal tool to exploit the remaining oil and gas will be new seismic and often that will mean new 3D seismic,” Buccaneer spokesman Jay Morakis wrote in an email. “With an estimated potential, conventional resource of nearly 20 trillion cubic feet and 600 million barrels of oil yet to be discovered in the Inlet, the use of seismic will continue to grow, and its use in discovering and producing those natural resources are inexorably linked.”

Many companies are using newer seismic technology that gives a 3D picture of the ground, as opposed to older technology that only allowed for 2D.

But some still appreciate both, like Nordaq President Bob Warthen.

“That’s up to debate,” he said when asked what the benefits of 3D versus 2D are. “Some people swear by it, some people don’t care for it because it is costly. It helps you define your reservoirs and the faulting within them.”

But overall, Warthen said a renewed emphasis on data-gathering should benefit all Cook Inlet explorers and those that do business with them.

“It should help because a lot of the data that has been acquired out there is old, vintage data,” he said. “Of course we are able to take that old data and reprocess it with modern techniques which has advanced light years, but the data is still acquired using old methodology.”

Moriarty said the newer data will allow companies to explore smarter with less impact.

“The more advanced the seismic is, the more precise the exploration and drilling opportunities are going to be to both leave a smaller footprint, as well as be more effective and efficient when you get to development,” she said.

Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson expressed a similar sentiment.

“When you’re dealing with large stretches of land, the seismic data helps point us in the right direction. It can potentially save the expense of drilling unsuccessful wells,” Nelson wrote in an email.

Among the companies who are, or have conducted seismic operations:


■ 200,000 acres (300 square miles), 3D seismic

■ Onshore and offshore from Susitna Flats to Anchor Point

■ Technology tests began in March 2011, began extensive program in the fall

■ Program is continuing with the issuance of permits, data will be available this year for what was acquired in 2012


■ 32,000 acres, 3D seismic

■ Onshore in the Deep Creek Unit, southeast of Ninilchik

■ Land survey was set to begin in early January and testing should span 90 days, wrapping up in early March

■ Data processing is likely to be completed in July


■ 32,000 acres, (49 square miles) 3D seismic

■ Onshore near the Shadura project near Nikiski

■ Currently waiting on permits to proceed


■ 15,360 acres (24 square miles), 3D seismic

■ Onshore near city of Kenai

■ Permitting began in late 2011, shoot started in February 2012

■ Data gathered is being used as of June 2012

■ Final processing of the data was used during the most recent drilling of Buccaneer’s No. 4 gas well at Kenai Loop

Morakis said the company’s seismic is a form of “risk reduction.”

“That older 2D also imaged only a fraction of the sub-surface,” he wrote. “That older technology also limited the ‘fold’ of the data — higher fold, as in our 3D, more efficiently reduces random earth noise and better images the sub-surface.”

Nelson said seismic data will be the company’s key to success in the Deep Creek Unit.

“Current technology is also much less noisy and provides much better imaging for shallow gas,” she wrote. “The new data generated improves our ability to find smaller fields that would most likely been missed with earlier technology.”

The overall effort would pay dividends for the area’s economy, Moriarty said.

“Money is being spent in the community and it is going to circulate around,” she said. “... They are spending millions of dollars on seismic and it is the most seismic that I’ve been aware of for the last few decades.”

Moreover, she said it would benefit the Cook Inlet energy industry as a whole.

“For other companies who might not be shooting seismic at this time, it may give them the impetus to further delineate if they have leases that don’t feel 100 percent comfortable knowing what they have,” she said. “I think the fact that you have companies aggressively trying to delineate their lease holdings is a really great sign.”


Brian Smith can be reached at

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