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The Reevaluation of 2D Seismic in a Changing Workforce

Published on October 2, 2023

The Reevaluation of 2D Seismic in a Changing Workforce

What will it take to bridge the skill gap in today’s carbon storage industry?

two people sit on blocks separated by a gap representing the skill gap when it comes to 2D seismic in today's workforce. A splash of seismic decorates the background.

In our series so far, we have explored why the popularity of 2D seismic diminished as 3D seismic technology flourished, and why 2D has become useful again. In this third article, we explore the resurgence of 2D seismic surveys and the profound shifts it has brought to the geoscientific workforce. Lee Hunt of Carbon Alpha offers his expertise on bias, uncertainty, and experience.

     > Read Part 1: The Evolution of Seismic Surveys: Why 2D Went Out of Style

     > Read Part 2: The Resurgence of 2D Seismic Surveys in Carbon Capture & Storage

Conditioned to Love 3D Seismic Surveys

For the last decade or more, seismic-heavy exploration work in North America has largely focused on resource plays and the use of 3D data. “This has been a great example … about where we get conditioned not to use 2D because in resource plays 2D’s have a very limited utility,” begins Lee. “The questions being answered are different. They’re still detailed. So, you spend all this time learning not to use a tool and now you have a different problem.”

Indeed, we have spent so much time developing and making business cases for 3D acquisition, that we’ve conditioned ourselves that it is the best tool to use in all circumstances.

The Psychology of Decision-Making in the CCS Industry

Lee recognizes three cognitive biases playing out in the seismic industry today. These subtle but powerful mental shortcuts have influenced our decision-making – something that geoscientists working in carbon capture and storage (CCS) will need to be aware of.

Firstly, anchoring bias occurs when individuals become fixated on the first piece of information they encounter. This makes it challenging to consider alternative perspectives. In the context of the CCS industry, Lee sees this manifest as an overreliance on 3D seismic data, making it difficult for geoscientists to explore the potential of 2D data.

Confirmation bias has also crept into our thinking. This type of bias involves seeking information that aligns with our pre-existing beliefs while dismissing or undervaluing data that contradicts those beliefs. The seismic industry has spent so much time and energy proving the value of 3D that we tend to devalue 2D. We tend to only remember—or to publish—all of the lessons where 2D was shown to be inadequate, and not the other examples where 2D was effective.

A third bias is also at play: Maslow’s Hammer. “That’s the one where we get our favorite hammer and we use that hammer on everything, including trying to screw screws,” Lee describes. “We can get used to using 3D. There’s a psychological aspect of what’s going on here… Of course, you want to work with the biggest and the best. 3D is easier. Faster. More complete. [2D] is not always the most attractive option, even if it’s the right tool to use.”

Lee stresses that it is imperative for geoscientists to be both technically and cognitively flexible. In a rapidly evolving industry like CCS, being nimble-minded is key. Geoscientists must challenge their biases, remain open to change, and avoid rushing into decisions without thorough evaluation. “We want to understand our biases so that we make better decisions… We have to be free to admit we’re wrong because when we do that, we give ourselves the freedom to improve.”

Coping with Uncertainty

In working with 3D data, geoscientists have become comfortable with the degree of certainty that it offers compared to 2D data. However, Lee outlines an uncomfortable truth: “We all know that there’s uncertainty in all seismic data. Even 3D. It’s an experiment. The only thing we ever get out of it are estimates, which is kind of an uncomfortable thing. And whenever possible, I believe we ignore that fact.”

The comfort that comes with interpreting 3D data disappears when interpreting a sparse grid of 2D lines. “Now we are dealing with uncertainties in a very different way. The uncertainty bars are bigger… and dealing with this could be very uncomfortable.”

Bridging the Skill Gap in 2D Seismic Interpretation

Managing and interpreting 2D might be uncomfortable, but it has become a critical skill for geoscientists entering the CCS space. Bias and discomfort are not the only problems that geoscientists need to tackle with the resurgence of 2D. There is a third, more problematic challenge: experience.

Economic downturns, layoffs, retirements, mergers, and acquisitions, and the shift to resource plays over the last decade and more have resulted in a loss of 2D seismic knowledge and skills. When it comes to solving that problem, Lee suggests a solution: “Geoscientists that have had a great deal of experiences may have something to offer. And, if someone does not have those past experiences, they can take this a step at a time and learn new things.”

     > For more insight, read Lee’s article in the CSEG RECORDER, CCS Expertise and Analogical Reasoning

Up next:

Will 2D be around forever? In our next article, we explore the concept of the final investment decision and where 2D plays a role in the different stages of a CCS project. On to Part 4!

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