Man in the money

The fourth dimension in 4D seismic is time, and Professor Martin Landrø has devoted his since 1986 to improving such surveys. This work has won him much acclaim – including the 2014 IOR prize from the NPD.

| Bjørn Rasen and Monica Larsen (photos)

Professor Martin Landrø

Hunting for solutions.
“About 95 per cent of the brainwaves you get are no good,” says Martin Landrø,
winner of the NPD’s IOR prize for 2014. “So you must be able to celebrate
that something’s gone right when you come up with a solution.
It doesn’t happen often, after all.”


Tens of billions of kroner in added value have been generated on the NCS by 4D seismic surveying, and a good deal of the honour for these revenues must go to Landrø. “

[He] has undoubtedly been a leader in this development,” NPD director general Bente Nyland said when the IOR award was presented at the ONS exhibition in August.

She added that the professor of applied geophysics in the department of petroleum engineering and applied geophysics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) was one of the pioneers behind the use of 4D seismic on Gullfaks.

Landrø recalls that he was contacted by Statoil, operator of the North Sea field, while working on 4D with the Sintef research foundation, and took over as project manager.

“Considerable scepticism existed in the company, but the management was willing to make a commitment. BP, a Statoil research partner, was also eager to try out the technology.”

Seismic surveyor Schlumberger Geco was the project partner, and the other Gullfaks licensees were positive. “I told them it wasn’t certain this would work. They appreciated that the risk is high, but took the chance. That was the backdrop.”

This was moreover the last project which formed part of Statoil’s strategic alliance with BP.



Landrø emphasises that 4D was not his idea. “We were very well aware of what was being done on land in the USA, but this was offshore in wind and weather – and in 1995.”

The method had been studied in America during the 1980s by starting a fire in the reservoir to achieve rapid development. One of the first papers was published 1987.

Two strong arguments against 4D existed in the North Sea, Landrø notes. One was that achieving a rapid spread of burning was not easy on Gullfaks because cold water was injected.

In addition came the doubts about the method and how big an impact it might have. “We thought the effect would be small”, Landrø admits.

The idea was to find how far a reservoir could be quantified with 4D, which proved to work very well in sandstone reservoirs. It is now used on most NCS fields above a certain size.

“Laying cables on the seabed is the ultimate answer,” explains Landrø. “Permanent monitoring represents the best and most expensive solution.

“It’s found today on four Norwegian fields, more than the rest of the world put together. We’re now in a time of transition over costs, and this is the Rolls Royce version. But we can do it with a Volkswagen model, too.”

The biggest expense is not the equipment as such, but the need to bury the hardware required on a permanent basis in trenches on the seabed.



Although the method is now used off Brazil and Angola as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, Landrø says the really big breakthrough will be to extend it to carbonate rocks. These are found widely in the Middle East.

The other advance he is waiting for involves combining 4D seismic with electromagnetic (EM) surveys. “I’ve always said it ought to be possible.

“Somebody will overcome the challenge of repeatable EM surveying. I’m certain it’ll come – this fits hand-in-glove with 4D seismic. But EM is still in its infancy.”

While seismic surveying is based on sound/pressure waves, EM uses seabed receivers to pick up electromagnetic pulses. Generated by the mother ship, these make it possible to distinguish between hydrocarbons, water and rock in the sub-surface.



Although the IOR prize is awarded for work done a while ago, Landrø is eager to make further progress. Thinking up solutions is not a job for depressives, he says.

“I seldom get ideas sitting at my desk. So I always have a notepad in my pocket should something occur to me – while I’m out walking, for example.

“About 95 per cent of the brainwaves you get are no good. So you must be able to celebrate that something’s gone right when you come up with a solution. It doesn’t happen often, after all.”

And ideas are developed through interaction, with the oil companies as the main partner. Landrø also draws on discussions with his students, which has proved fruitful.

If he has a vision for the work ahead, it is to develop the method so that results can be achieved for resources difficult to squeeze out of the reservoir.

“While 4D seismic surveys detect mobile oil, they could also play a role in recovering immobile oil in combination with injecting chemicals. But the industry is in a cost-saving phase, and isn’t pursuing such projects now.”


"I seldom get ideas sitting at my desk. So I always have a notepad in my pocket."