The 3-D Seismic Revolution
Three-dimensional (3-D) seismic data are having a phenomenal impact on the petroleum exploration and development industry. According to some estimates, technological advances (including 3-D seismic, horizontal drilling and other technologies) have caused exploration and development costs in some companies to drop by as much as 75% in recent years, whereas wildcat drilling success rates in some areas are approaching 40-50%. One major oil company reported that switching from 2-D seismic to 3-D seismic technology caused the number of dry holes (wells drilled without producing oil or gas) the company drilled to fall from 53% to 25%. Other, similar successes have been documented elsewhere (e.g., Nestvold, 1996; Aylor, 1998). Declining world oil prices in the decade since 1985 are thought to have led to nearly 450,000 job losses in the United States’ hydrocarbon exploration and production industry, and yet during that time demand for those resources was steady or even increased. Together, these observations suggest that the petroleum industry is becoming faster and better (i.e., more efficient) at finding and producing hydrocarbon reserves, and most analysts agree that 3-D seismic technology has contributed greatly to these improvements.
Simply put, 3-D seismic data provide the most accurate and continuous volume of information that can be obtained to image stratigraphy, structure and rock properties. Routinely in the petroleum industry, interpretations based on well data, outcrop analogs or 2-D seismic have been shown to be wrong, to varying degrees, by drilling. These same data types are often used as the basis of