HOUSTON — For decades, the giants of the oil industry were confounded by salt.
While oil companies for years had shot sound waves into the deep to help create images of undersea geology, salt located far under the floor of the Gulf of Mexico was unpredictable. It muffled reflections, or bounced them away from survey vessels, leaving geophysicists in the dark.
But that was before a series of recent seismic imaging breakthroughs involving supercomputers and the largest moving objects in the ocean. The advancements helped oil companies peek under salt layers located miles below the Gulf and have spurred a number of discoveries and billions of dollars in new investment in offshore oil production.
“It’s like a medical imaging experiment that we’re all familiar with when they take an ultrasound and show us an image of the baby, only it’s done on a planetary scale,” said Craig Beasley, chief geophysicist for Schlumberger’s WesternGeco subsidiary.