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Passive seismic monitoring

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In recent years, deformation of the reservoir host rocks has become a subject of great interest, prompted in part by the dramatic subsidence observed at Ekofisk platforms in the North Sea.[1] One method of monitoring deformation is by passive seismic monitoring. It is called "passive" because the geopysicist does not activate a seismic source, but rather uses existing geophones to monitor ongoing changes in the rocks due to downhole conditions.

Identifying deformation

Deformation is an important aspect of reservoir production, even without a significant compaction drive in many cases. Previous studies have been published in the scientific and earthquake literature relating earthquakes to oil/gas production[2][3][4][5] and to injection practices.[6][7] The link between injection or production practices and seismicity, however, is complicated and not yet well-understood. The location and timing of microseismic events, or even large earthquakes, cannot easily be linked to a simple failure criterion in an otherwise static and nondeforming crust.

The overall deformation of the rock surrounding the producing reservoir (or zone of injection), as well as spatial variation in pore pressure, can alter the state of stress in the host rock; subsequent changes in either pore pressure or deformation-induced stresses can then cause seismic events, even though these may occur at conditions that would not have originally induced seismicity. Conversely, the history of production and injection may inhibit seismicity that would have occurred under similar conditions but with a different history. Thus, the evolution of stresses in and near a reservoir seems to be almost as important as the absolute values of those stresses, in determining whether or not seismicity will occur.[8] Of course, not all rocks will fail suddenly, producing a seismic event, but may creep or flow, and this form of failure will not be detected by passive seismic monitoring.

The production or injection of fluids induces change in fluid pressure, stress on host reservoir rocks, and the occurrence of small (occasionally) large earthquake-like events, representing sudden shear failure along planes of weakness. These changes can occur at injection pressures well below the reservoir engineer’s “parting” pressure for tensile failure or during production at pressures below original reservoir pressure.

In some detailed studies, very small events indicate locations of fracture systems responsible for fluid migration[9][10] (Fig. 1). In some other studies, the events identify faults that may be significant for reservoir management[11][12] (Fig. 2), and seismicity may reveal reservoir behavior that aids in reservoir management.[13] The migration of microseismic events, away from an injecting well, may also be used to determine permeability of the bulk rock, including fractures that serve as conduits of fluid flow.[14]

Benefits of passive seismic monitoring

There are multiple reasons to consider passive seismic monitoring, which include:

  • Earthquake hazard evaluation (and subsequent mitigation)
  • Deformation monitoring for reservoir management and optimization
  • Monitoring of fluid leakage for environmental and economic considerations
  • Providing additional time-lapse constraints for reservoir simulation

Earthquake monitoring has now become one standard way of monitoring reservoir and host-rock deformation. Passive seismic technology has gradually become more precise and accurate, even at low levels of seismicity, largely because of the placement of geophones downhole, which is away from surface noise and closer to the sources of seismic energy,[15] and processing and analysis techniques developed for this purpose.[16][17][18]

Because of the complexity, passive seismic monitoring is not currently used widely as a tool for reservoir management. Improved geomechanical reservoir modeling is likely to aid in interpretation of microseismic event observations for reservoir management purposes, and environmental monitoring considerations are likely to increase; given these enhanced applications for the technology, it is probable that microseismic passive monitoring will become more widespread in the near future.


  1. Teufel, L.W. and Rhett, D.W. 1992. Failure of Chalk During Waterflooding of the Ekofisk Field. Presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Washington, D.C., 4-7 October 1992. SPE-24911-MS.
  2. Kovach, R.L. 1974. Source Mechanisms for Wilmington Oil Field, California, Subsidence Earthquakes. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 64 (3): 699.
  3. Pennington, W.D. et al. 1986. The Evolution of Seismic Barriers and Asperities Caused by the Depressuring of Fault Planes in Oil and Gas Fields of South Texas. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 78 (4): 939.
  4. Segall, P. 1989. Earthquakes Triggered by Fluid Extraction. Geology 17 (10): 942.<0942:ETBFE>2.3.CO;2
  5. McGarr, A. 1991. On a Possible Connection Between Three Major Earthquakes in California and Oil Production. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 81 (3): 948.
  6. Raleigh, C.B., Healy, J.H., and Bredehoeft, J.D. 1976. An Experiment in Earthquake Control at Rangely, Colorado. Science 191 (4233): 1230.
  7. Davis, S.D. and Pennington, W.D. 1989. Induced Seismic Deformation in the Cogdell Oil Field of West Texas. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 79 (5): 1477.
  8. Zoback, M.D. and Zinke, J.C. 2002. Production-Induced Normal Faulting in the Valhall and Ekofisk Oil Fields. Pure and Applied Geophysics 159 (1–3): 403.
  9. Phillips, W.S. et al. 1998. Induced Microearthquake Patterns and Oil-Producing Fracture Systems in the Austin Chalk. Tectonophysics 289 (1–3): 153.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Phillips, W.S., Rutledge, J.T., Fairbanks, T.D. et al. 1998. Reservoir Fracture Mapping using Microearthquakes: Austin Chalk, Giddings Field, TX and 76 Field, Clinton Co., KY. SPE Res Eval & Eng 1 (2): 114-121. SPE-36651-PA.
  11. Maxwell, S.C., Young, R.P., Bossu, R. et al. 1998. Microseismic Logging of the Ekofisk Reservoir. Presented at the SPE/ISRM Rock Mechanics in Petroleum Engineering, Trondheim, Norway, 8-10 July 1998. SPE-47276-MS.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Maxwell, S.C. and Urbancic, T.I. 2000. The Role of Passive Microseismic Monitoring in the Instrumented Oil Field. The Leading Edge 20 (6): 636.
  13. Maury, V., Grasso, J.R., and Wittlinger, G. 1990. Lacq Gas Field (France): Monitoring of Induced Subsidence and Seismicity Consequences on Gas Production and Field Operation. Presented at the European Petroleum Conference, The Hague, Netherlands, 21-24 October 1990. SPE-20887-MS.
  14. Shapiro, S.A., Audigane, P., and Royer, J.-J. 1999. Large Scale In-Situ Permeability Tensor of Rocks from Induced Microseismicity. Geophysical J. Intl. 137 (1): 207.
  15. Rutledge, J.T., Fairbanks, T.D., Albright, J.N. et al. 1994. Reservoir microseismicity at the Ekofisk oil field. Presented at the Rock Mechanics in Petroleum Engineering, Delft, Netherlands, 29-31 August 1994. SPE-28099-MS.
  16. Jones, R.H. and Stewart, R.C. 1997. A Method for Determining Significant Structures in a Cloud of Earthquakes. J. of Geophysical Research 102 (B4): 8245.
  17. Gaucher, E., Cornet, F.H., and Bernard, P. 1998. Induced Seismicity Analysis for Structure Identification and Stress Field Determination. Presented at the SPE/ISRM Rock Mechanics in Petroleum Engineering, Trondheim, Norway, 8-10 July 1998. SPE-47324-MS.
  18. Fehler, M., Jupe, A., and Asanuma, H. 2001. More Than Cloud: New Techniques for Characterizing Reservoir Structure Using Induced Seismicity. The Leading Edge 20 (3): 324.

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Cole, S. and Vanyan, L. Scattering Analysis of Passive Seismic Data. Presented at the 1990/1/1/.

de Ridder, S. and Biondi, B. Low Frequency Passive Seismic Interferometry For Land Data. Presented at the 2010/1/1/.

Draganov, D., Wapenaar, K., Artman, B. et al. Migration Methods For Passive Seismic Data. Presented at the 2004/1/1/.

Maxwell, S.C., Urbancic, T.I., Demerling, T. et al. Calibrating Borehole Seismic Attributes With Passive Seismic Data. Presented at the 2003/1/1/.

External links

Use this section to provide links to relevant material on websites other than PetroWiki and OnePetro

See also


Reservoir geophysics overview

Seismic imaging and inversion

Seismic time-lapse reservoir monitoring