Ivan Starostin is the CEO and founder of Tenzor Geo, a company chosen for the first TechX Pioneer cohort at the Oil and Gas Technology Centre. Here he is talking about bringing his company’s innovative technology to the oil and gas sector in the North Sea.
Can you tell us about Tenzor Geo’s new technology?
Tenzor Geo offers an integrated micro-seismic subsea service. It acts as a fuel additive to the existing conventional 3D or 4D seismic, giving more certainty to drilling decisions. Unlike conventional seismic work with its explosions and airguns, our data acquisition method is completely passive and simple. We sink our ocean bottom seismometers (OBS) in a free fall fashion, in any grid formation required and without the need for expensive survey vessels, cables or ROVs. At the end of an 18 hour recording, the OBSs automatically re-float by leaving concrete anchors on the seabed where anchors degrade into an environmentally harmless substance. Recorded micro seismic waves are filtered, modelled and analysed. During the interpretation process we produce a 2D map, showing a hydrocarbon deposit outline. The extremely high accuracy of our maps increases the probability of successful drilling for oil or gas.
Where did the idea for this technology come from?
Partially, the technology is based on acoustic detection of stealth objects that absorb the signal instead of reflecting it. In contrast to conventional seismic, where the object is located by the reflection of the signal, we are interested in objects that “absorb” the signal the most. It is possible to monitor different signal reflections and identify areas with highest attenuation. For many years, the existence of background seismic noise was subject of an academic debate. Now, the presence of a constant subsurface hiss, detectable at 0-5 Hertz, is an established scientific fact. These acoustic waves are always there but their features change when they come across oil and gas saturated layers. We are capable of recording and interpreting this phenomenon and what we deliver is an extremely precise map of hydrocarbons location. We believe that our method will become an industry standard in the next 5 years. Historically, first commercial oil was simply skimmed off the surface, then prospectors drilled anywhere they thought they might find oil. Modern exploration techniques progressed from seismic to 2D and 3D seismic, and our technology delivers the next level in achieving drilling certainty. We are not re-inventing the wheel. We are using the wheel to give the industry a Formula 1 result.
What are the benefits for the Oil and Gas industry?
There are two main areas for application of our technology. The first one is hydrocarbon location or identification. The benefits include sweet spot location, prediction of gas lenses and being able to locate reservoirs under basaltic sills and coal layers. The second application is used in hydraulic fracturing. A rock has velocity, permeability and, crucially for us, it has tiny natural cracks. If the fluid can flow through the rock and is pressurised on one side, how and in what direction will it move through the rock? Our technology allows us to monitor natural tensor of seismic events and see the direction of natural micro cracks in the rock. We can predict how the fluid will move inside the rock and the propagation of cracks once the rock has been fractured. In many cases, this information will determine important fracking and well positioning decisions.
Are there any limitations or challenges with this technology?
Our technology’s forerunner, applied onshore, was commercialised in Russia about 30 years ago and is still being used successfully to the present day. Essentially, Tenzor Geo is taking what is a Technology Readiness Level 9 product and giving it a new application offshore. In terms of limitations, the method is qualitative, not quantitative, and delivers best results in brown fields. Our biggest challenge is to safely deploy and recover OBSs in the busy and inhospitable North Sea environment but the good news is that our data acquisition procedure is nowhere near the complexity of, for example, subsea construction or offshore drilling operations. We know that subsea engineering companies can easily handle the type of work we require and one of them has already indicated their interest in working with us. What we need to happen next is to use the ready to go product and prove that it works offshore.
What savings can be achieved through use of this technology?
Our technology offers significant savings. If we consider a conventional exploration and appraisal campaign in the UKCS, it costs around £150m according to Wood Mackenzie and statistically you need to drill 4 wells for one to be productive. Our technology is an additional investigation but for a small percentage of the G&G costs and by adding only a couple of months for the report to be prepared, the operators can find themselves needing to drill fewer wells. The success rate of hitting commercial oil can be as high as 80%. This statistic is the result of commercial projects done onshore in various locations with over a hundred different geological structures. Looking at the UKCS, we want to target small pools and marginal oilfields. At the moment, about 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent are locked in small pools but despite the majority of them being within 25km of existing infrastructure they are not economically viable for development. With the economic downturn and mature assets, it is often said that the future of the UKCS is in decommissioning which does not come cheap and spells the end of the industry which sustained the UK economy for decades. We want to reverse this expectation and help the industry to maximise economic recovery instead. With our technology it makes sense to develop small pools, as the drilling costs can be significantly reduced and building 25km of new pipeline to connect to the existing infrastructure would cost much less than doing exploration in completely new fields.
How have you found your experience in the TechX programme?
When we first started the TechX programme, we did not know what to expect. Now, thirteen weeks later, we have a fully formulated value proposition, we are well known and we have met with most of the big operators in Aberdeen, top geophysicists and decision makers. We have a preliminary agreement for 2 field trials with 2 operators and we have a professional vessel provider on standby ready to do the offshore deployment. We have received unprecedented levels of support from the OGTC, including business advice, training and mentorship. In the three months of this intensive program, TechX has accelerated us from being a start-up with a fantastic technology but no footprint in the market to being on the verge of preparing for a field trial in the UKCS with an operator. This is beyond what we dreamt of three months ago and we are very grateful to the OGTC for this fantastic opportunity.
What are the future plans for Tenzor Geo?
After we graduate from the Pioneer TechX at the end of September 2018, we will join TechX Plus program. We will continue conversations with other operators and hopefully will accomplish a field trial by the end of this year. We are already in conversations with two operators about doing commercial contracts in 2019 when the weather window opens again. We want to do a couple of commercial projects next year which will put us in a solid position to expand. We plan to win commercial contracts in 2020 and will also look into developing various applications for the technology. It might be in direct hydrocarbon identification, fluid monitoring, fracturing, steam flood treatment or even in construction and infrastructure. Our technology can be applied in many ways and we definitely see moving in to the Norwegian side once we had proved it works here. Aberdeen has always been considered the birth place of best oil and gas offshore technology and we are proud to be working in this market. We set our expectations high and plan to expand our operations internationally in 2020. There are no limits to our global presence.