Early development of marine electromagnetic methods, dating back about 80 years, was driven largely by defense/military applications, and use for these purposes continues to this day. Deepwater, frequency-domain, electric dipole-dipole, controlled-source electromagnetic (CSEM) methods arose from academic studies of the oceanic lithosphere in the 1980s, and although the hydrocarbon exploration industry was aware of this work, the shallow-water environments being explored at that time were not ideally suited for its use. Low oil prices and increasingly successful results from 3D seismic methods further discouraged investment in costly alternative geophysical data streams. These circumstances changed in the late 1990s, when both Statoil and ExxonMobil began modeling studies and fieldtrials of CSEM surveying in deep water (around 1000m or deeper), specifically for characterizing the resistivity of previously identified drilling targets. Trials offshore Angola in 2000–2002 by both these companies showed that CSEM data can successfully be used to evaluate reservoir resistivity for targets as deep as several thousand meters. Both companies leveraged instrumentation and expertise from the academic community to make swift progress. The resulting rapid growth in the use of marine EM methods for exploration has created a demand for trained personnel that is difficult to meet; nevertheless, at this time, CSEM data represent a commercial commodity within the exploration business, and acquisition services are offered by three companies. The ability to determine the resistivity of deep drilling targets from the seafloor may well make marine CSEM the most important geophysical technique to emerge since 3D reflection seismology.

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