Scottish and Norwegian academics are pioneering remote-controlled drone use to help find crude oil reserves under the seabed of the North Sea.
While the use of underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) has been part of the oil industry for decades, geologists from Aberdeen University and the University of Bergen think the seabed can be better understood by observing from the air.
The idea is for drones to hover over the North Sea and scan the rock formations deep below, "seeing" remote areas that ROVs are unable to reach, to give a picture of geological formations below the seabed that may contain hydrocarbons.
The goal of the project is to eventually develop a searchable database of rock formations that would enable oil companies to build better models of the subsurface and improve recovery from oilfields.
“When you drill a well in the North Sea, you can directly measure the rocks in the borehole. However, you have much less certainty about what is going on away from the well. Given that two wells are often several miles apart, predicting what the rock layers in-between boreholes look like is a huge challenge.
“To solve this problem, we look at similar rock units that occur in cliffs above sea level and we use the drone to make extremely detailed 3D models, which we can adapt for the subsurface.
“This gives us a much better idea of what conditions are like between these two bore holes and then allows us to predict how the oil will follow and how much we can recover,” said Professor John Howell, geoscientist at Aberdeen University.
The 10,000-British pound ($15,000) drone is part of a project called SAFARI that was created in the 1980s aimed at using technology to collect data.
“The original workers on the project have seen data collection come on in leaps and bounds since then, but the introduction of laser scanning was one of the biggest improvements.
“We’re now able to create virtual rock formations that are accurate to within less than a few millimeters,” Howell said Tuesday.
The project has been sponsored by 24 oil companies, including some unidentified major oil companies, according to Aberdeen University.
(Note: UAV drone photo by Shutterstock.com.)