2012 Honorary LecturerSponsored by Shell

North America

Shuki Ronen

CGGVeritas, California, USA

Ocean-bottom acquisition and processing: past, present, and future


Shuki RonenThe SEG asked for either a pre-tour or an interview article. Why did you choose the interview rather than the pre-tour article?

I chose the interview option because the introduction I recently wrote for the special section on marine and seabed technology in the April issue of The Leading Edge is more or less a pre-tour article.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (e.g., your education and work experience, why you became a geophysicist, etc.)

I became a geophysicist because I was interested in the Earth, and I liked physics, geology, computer programming, mathematics, and signal processing. My undergraduate was at the Hebrew University in physics and geology and, my PhD is in geophysics from Stanford. My first job during and after school was in Saxpy Computer. I then moved on to Colorado School of Mines, Institute for Petroleum Research and Geophysics, Schlumberger, GeoQuest, Geco-Prakla, WesternGecoi, Veritas, Chevron, Seabird, and now CGGVeritas. I also worked for a Silicon Valley start up computer company, a university, the government, a wireline company, seismic contractors, oil companies, and a shipping company. I did algorithm engineering, teaching, software engineering, data processing, interpretation, and acquisition – first one by one and then all together at the same time.

Would you like to mention anything about your personal attributes that helped you achieve the professional status you enjoy today; was it self-belief, hard work, a mentor, or something else?

Mostly mentors. I also learned a lot from peers and from people who I mentored and supervised, but to keep it short, I'll just answer the mentor question. I became a geophysicist thanks to Dan Kosloff whose somewhat mathematical geophysics courses I took in Jerusalem. At Stanford, Jon Claerbout taught me to trust my intuition – to relentlessly pursue what I have passion for and to drop what does not make sense to me. Fabio Rocca taught me that if I too quickly drop what I don't understand I would solve only easy problems. I learned a lot about software engineering from Einar Kjartansson, Stew Levin, and other students at Stanford. Jack Cohen taught me the value of what we do depends on how well other people use it. Phil Schultz gave me an opportunity to learn and do joint surface and borehole seismic and non-seismic data interpretation. Oz Yilmaz challenged me with all processing – not just imaging but everything in the book. Alexey Arkhipov and Leon Walker taught me to be holistic; to do acquisition, processing, and interpretation all together. Finally (so far) Dave Robson and the management team he cultivated showed me how truth creates value.

Why did you choose this lecture topic? Why is it important?

In the last 15 years I worked mainly with ocean bottom technology and business. If SEG had asked me to give this lecture 15 years ago, I would have chosen to talk about least squares migration. Twenty years ago I would have talked about estimating reservoir properties from seismic attributes, thirty years ago about stack optimization statics. The fact is that SEG did not ask me to give this lecture then; they asked me now. Why did the SEG ask me now and not before? Probably because as the low hanging fruits of exploration and production have already been picked, it increasingly makes economical sense to go to the seabed.

Could you tell us in a few sentences what your course objectives are?

I want to encourage people to know where and when and how to put seismic receivers on the bottom of the ocean. More importantly, I want people to know what to expect, learn from successes, from mistakes, and share their lessons with everybody.

What do you hope people will have learned after they attend your lecture? How is it different from other lectures?

One thing I hope people will learn is to manage expectations. This is not something you can learn in a lecture, but you can become aware of the issue in a lecture and then learn as you go. Managing expectations is not unique to my lecture, but it seems it pertains more to multicomponent seismic methods than to other methods that do not have to promise a lot of added value to justify their cost.

You have quite a busy year ahead. Do you enjoy traveling? Will it be difficult to balance the tour with your work?

Yes, it will be, and my work will be compromised. I thank my company, CGGVeritas, for tolerating the compromise. It is of course not completely altruistic, but they know my lecture is not going to be commercial. I will fairly present competing providers and competing technologies.

Would you share with us one or two of your most exciting successes?

Most important was "inversion to zero offset" (IZO). IZO was a forerunner of what later became least squares migration. Geophysically, it was understanding the difference between imaging and inversion, mathematically between the transpose and the inverse.

The most exciting success was less mine personally and more a success of the seismic method, but I had the excitement of discovering it. In the early 90s when we could put together 3D seismic data and well logs, we produced software that inverted seismic data, and generated other seismic attributes, extracted properties from well logs, and then cross-plotted seismic attributes against reservoir properties. I will not forget how acoustic impedance predicted porosity time after time. We then observed multidimensional relations like porosity-impedance- gamma ray (shaliness)-instantaneous frequency. I still find it amazing that surface seismic data are not only good for imaging structures but also good for estimating porosity and lithology. The amazing thing is that the data measure echoes are just a few fractions of a micron large, and we estimate things that are thousand of meters deep.

How about a couple of disappointments?

So far least squares migration (LSMIG) has not become a useful tool, but I don't think we have seen and heard the last word on LSMIG.

Permanent reservoir monitoring (PRM) is another disappointment. When I was asked to manage the data processing of Foinaven's baseline survey back in 1996, I was sure that PRM would be the future of reservoir geophysics. That has not happened. On the positive side, the reason that PRM has not happened is that nonpermanent technology, including streamers and nodes provide proper reservoir monitoring, which is also PRM.

What advice would you give to geophysics students and professionals just starting out in the industry?

Say what you think. Do what you say.

Also, never fall in love with your theory. It would sour the relations with other people who are not in love with your theory.