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FWI – Seismic Shift?

Full waveform inversion (FWI) is a potential step-change in seismic technology. Even though the method was formulated over three decades ago by Patrick Lailly and Albert Tarantola, recent advances in theory and computational technologies have brought FWI into the mainstream with service companies like SLB and CGG now offering it to clients. Exploration success using FWI, recently touted by BP, will undoubtedly accelerate broader adoption across the industry.

So, what makes FWI so different from other seismic methods? Historically, geophysicists relied on the timing and amplitude of reflected seismic waves to formulate interpretations of subsurface strata. Past technology, even breakthroughs like 3D seismic, revolved around improving the interpretation or collection of those waves. FWI incorporates this amplitude information plus additional data such as the phase of the waves. But at the heart of FWI is an iterative updating process that improves resolution (Figure 1) by minimizing the difference between an inferred synthetic seismic model and the actual seismic data, reminding us of machine learning that is de rigueur in big data currently.  

Like most technology disruptions, look to rapid and broad adoption as a key indicator of success. We expect operators will use the new tool to extend and refine inventory in mature regions, such as BP’s success at Thunder Horse in the Gulf of Mexico, and to employ FWI in active and new exploration regions, especially sub-salt and ultra-deepwater settings that tend to have lower seismic coverage.

We expect the added benefit provided by the technology to vary by operator, with factors such as acreage quality, proximity to salt structures, capability of the geoscience team and management quality to influence the outcomes. Discoveries don’t have to be the billion barrels uncovered by BP to be economic; smaller finds close to infrastructure currently generate positive returns.

FIGURE  1 | FWI Improves Resolution of Seismic Cross Section 

FIGURE  1 | FWI Improves Resolution of Seismic Cross Section

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