Almost simultaneously, advances were made in understanding both the processes within the source rock organic matter that accompany the generation and expulsion of hydrocarbons and in the acquisition, processing, and quantitative interpretation of 3D seismic data. In particular, as organic matter in shales in unconventional plays generates and expels hydrocarbons, porosity is formed in the organic matter and the organic matter becomes more dense and more brittle. As these changes are occurring at a micro-scale, extraction of hundreds of different attributes from a well-imaged 3D seismic volume has made it possible to observe changes at a macro-scale in seismic lines and horizons within that volume. Seismic attributes derived from pre-stack inversions yielding rock mechanical properties from shear (Vs) and compressional (Vp) velocities and density, when calibrated with well log and/or core measurements, can be combined to calculate TOC, pore pressure, rigidity, and compressibility because these properties cause fundamental changes in how seismic waves travel through the rock.
Equally important, the escalation in computing power via methods such as machine learning, neural networks, and multivariate statistics has made it possible to interpret large amounts of data. All of these innovations have contributed to better identification of sweet spots within unconventional plays. Such sweet spots include areas with elevated TOC values, enhanced porosity, and zones that can be targeted for fracking.
One of the primary advantages of seismic data is that it provides information in those areas in between control points/wells. This information in turn helps operators to better select targets for wells and for landing zones. Carefully tied 3D seismic inversion and integration with petrophysical and rock data further allow for detailed characterization of unconventional reservoirs. The enhanced ability to identify the best potential drilling targets has significant economic implications in terms of risk reduction and improved chances to find economic prospects.
While 3D seismic data is being used routinely by numerous companies to predict the mechanical properties, density, and associated TOC of many formations, there is yet to be a direct link made between TOC loss, kerogen conversion, and the associated changes in rock properties. This work documents the importance of TOC loss during maturation and its effects on rock properties like porosity, density, brittleness, and how those advances coupled with the advances in quantitative interpretation of 3D seismic data are enabling the unconventional operators to predict location, thickness, landing zone, and sweet spots with appropriately acquired, processed, and interpreted 3D seismic. Meticulously calibrated 3D seismic inversion and integration with petrophysical and rock data permit detailed reservoir characterization of unconventional reservoirs.
Updated methods for the back calculation of original TOC have been developed using well logs, rock measurements, and 3D basin modeling to assist in locating and developing unconventional reservoirs. In addition, petrophysical measurements that reflect TOC and porosity and are related to fundamental properties controlling the seismic response can be extracted from the seismic reflection data. In turn, seismic attributes derived from pre-stack inversions yielding rock mechanical properties from shear (Vs) and compressional (Vp) velocities and density, when calibrated with well log and/or core measurements, can be combined to estimate TOC, pore pressure, rigidity, and compressibility because these properties cause basic modifications in how seismic waves travel through the rock.
This study shows advancements in studies of: 1) TOC loss with increased thermal maturation, 2) how this loss affects the development of organic porosity, 3) how kerogen becomes denser, harder, and more brittle with increasing maturity, and 4) how recent developments in quantitative interpretation workflows for 3D seismic data facilitate estimation of TOC and determination of rock mechanical properties from shear (Vs) and compressional (Vp) velocities and density. Further integration of geochemical, geomechanical, and geophysical technologies and measurements will provide improved estimates of present-day TOC that can in turn be extended to relative maturity and percent conversion.
Examples provided in this work illustrate prediction of present-day TOC, porosity, density, and mechanical properties extracted from high fidelity pre-stack inversion. Pre-stack inversion along with machine learning can be used to predict rock properties such as porosity, TOC, organic matter quality, rigidity, and pressure and to correlate those properties back to well productivity for improved execution. Relating present TOC estimated from seismic to TOC loss and kerogen property changes with increasing maturity is possible by combining the results of these technologies.
Though analysis and inversion of painstakingly acquired modern 3D seismic data is capable of estimating porosity, TOC, matrix strength, and pore pressure, the latest work on rock property changes as hydrocarbons mature and are expelled isn't typically addressed in most studies. Increasing communication between disciplines might improve estimation of these properties and extend the capability to assess the extent of TOC loss during maturation and the porosity increases that accompany it. This ability is especially important in the intra-well regions where the potential of 3D seismic to extend data between control points enables better reserve estimates and high grading of acreage. After carefully calibrating a quantitative 3D seismic interpretation with a 3D basin modeling analysis of the source rock potential and maturity, an operator is better prepared to high grade acreage and attain the most economic development of unconventional resources.
The escalation in computing power means there are hundreds of different attributes that can be extracted or calculated from a well-imaged 3D seismic volume. Using quantitative calibration of fundamental geochemical measurements such as TOC, pyrolysis, and petrographic measurements of vitrinite reflectance that yield the quantity, quality, and maturity of organic matter in combination with well log and seismic data creates a model for identifying sweet spots and the areas in the target formation that exhibit high TOC, high porosity, and elevated brittleness. Further integration and calibration of changes occurring at the micro-level in organic matter in unconventional plays with their impact on the signatures of data at the macro-level can provide information on the types of hydrocarbons most likely to be found in these sweet spots as well as identifying which zone(s) in the target formation are most likely to be amenable to fracking. Used together, the advances outlined here result in a technological evolution that could have a substantial impact on: 1) the approach to and 2) the economics of the exploration and production of unconventional plays.