Vertical Seismic Profiling Part II- How the 1979 Linkage Between Hardage and Gal’perin Occurred

Dr. Bob Hardage, a noted researcher, geoscientists, and former SEG President, recently shared a remarkable story on this site that highlighted the introduction of Vertical Seismic Profiling (VSP) in the U.S. and what was then the Soviet Union. His was such a unique and noteworthy account that we asked Bob to write more on the subject, and he graciously offered to chronicle the history of the geoscience behind VSP in a series of posts. As far we know, the text pinned here is the only written history on the subject, unless he elects to publish elsewhere. Bob is injecting new life into VSP by leveraging machine learning, so it may very well be that technology finally caught up with the science, which is often the case. We hope you enjoy as much as we do:

I have been asked to provide additional details that explain how Dr. Evsey Gal’perin, the Russian father of VSP, and I became fellow travelers in championing VSP technology.  In the late 1970s, political relationships between the U.S. and the USSR became so cooperative that western oil companies began giving serious consideration to initiating exploration programs across Russian basins. At that time, I was focused on integrating seismic stratigraphy into Phillips operations, and I recorded my first VSP to determine how beneficial VSP data could be in supporting seismic stratigraphy investigations. Phillips was aggressive about expanding into new exploration areas and was basking in the glory of having made the first commercial discovery in Norwegian waters – the giant Ekofisk-Eldfisk complex that still produces today. When Phillips recognized the emerging possibilities of operating inside the USSR, they were one of the earliest western oil companies to travel to the USSR to discuss joint exploration projects.

The first Phillips delegation came back befuddled.  Moscow-based officials had told them that all negotiations about oil exploration had to done with Moscow, and no one else. Officials in regions that spanned prospective basins told them that Moscow had no authority in their region, and negotiations had to be done with regional officials only. Simultaneously, evidence emerged that some U.S. majors planned to go all out to get established inside Russia, so Phillips upped their effort to initiate negotiations with the USSR.

Phillips decided they could move to the top of the list of companies that the USSR would negotiate with by establishing links between Phillips researchers and Russian researchers. A memo circulated inside the Phillips Research Department that basically said “we need to know if you are doing research that Russian researchers are also doing so that we can propose a joint Phillips/Russia research effort on our next visit to Moscow.

I replied by describing my new VSP research program and emphasized I was inspired to do so after reading a book written by the world’s VSP expert, a Russian researcher named Evsey Gal’perin. I emphasized that Evsey had been engaged in VSP development for 20-plus years, and our new VSP program could benefit from his assistance. Unknown to me, I was the only person who provided our E&P Department a Russian name and a possible cooperative research topic.

This one fact – that I was the only person to provide Phillips a possible research linkage with Russia – is the reason VSP came to the U.S. when it did. I assumed Phillips chemists would bury the Phillips delegation with research possibilities and almost did not reply to the request for joint Phillips/Russia research that arrived at every researcher’s desk. Chemistry research that supported refining operations and that developed all types of polymers and polyethylene for manufacturing plastic products completely dominated the Phillips Research Center. Fate definitely played a hand in getting me and Gal’perin together. No one was more surprised than me that Phillips went to Moscow to propose a joint VSP research between globally famous Evsey Gal-perin and an unknown young man named Bob Hardage.

On their next trip to Moscow, the Phillips delegation focused full attention on Evsey and his VSP work. My understanding was that Evsey was a Russian Jew, and in many ways, he was like the lead character, Tevye, in The Fiddler on the Roof. In this famous musical, Tevye was a Russian Jew who agonized how he could live and prosper inside Russia, a lament that is beautifully expressed in his song, If I Were a Rich Man. Evsey was not abused in Russia, but in my opinion, he was not elevated to the stature he deserved, perhaps due to his ethnic heritage.

Evsey was elated to be the focus of attention by Phillips. Negotiations to get him to the U.S. moved at a rapid pace. I was alerted “get ready, Gal’perin is coming to work with you”. I hustled to process and analyze the two VSPs I had acquired only a few months before.

World's first reflection interpretation
Karcher’s famous seismic reflection profile acquired in 1921 in Kingfisher County, OK, only a few miles from where Phillips recorded their first two VSPs in 1979. These data are credited with initiating global seismic reflection seismology because they were interpreted to define deep geology. A grand total of nine, widely spaced, data-reflection traces were used to map the contact between the Sylvan Shale and Viola Limestone. Arcs on ray paths show reflection arrival times. Concepts such as summing common-depth point trace gathers to enhance reflection energy, and applying static corrections to create a fixed zero-time depth datum, were developed years later.

As an interesting side note, I recorded my first two VSPs in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, not far from where Clarence Karcher recorded the first-ever seismic reflection data in 1921. His field test introduced the world to seismic reflection seismology and led to his founding of Geophysical Services Inc. (GSI), arguably the most important seismic service company in history. The only reason I acquired my first VSP data in Kingfisher County was that Phillips had an active drilling program underway there, and wells were available for deploying down-hole equipment. It is ironic, though, that data that introduced VSP into the U.S., and data that initiated the global practice of seismic reflection seismology, were acquired at essentially the same spot. These two seismic tests were separated in time by 58 years.

Gal'Perin Lecture Phillips Petroleum 1979
Evsey Gal’perin lecturing to Phillips research staff in 1979 in the Phillips Research Center. Evsey was a master performer in a classroom. This was the age before PowerPoints. I used 35-mm slides and overhead transparencies in my presentations. Evsey used chalk and chalkboard. He was a master at drawing realistic data and diagrams as exhibited here by the examples on his lecture board. What he has drawn is insightful. The minimum-phase shapes of his wavelets indicate Evsey used only explosive sources. Reliable vibroseis sources that produced zero-phase wavelets were not available to him. His labeling of wave modes shows that Evsey concentrated on shear waves as well as on P waves.

Evsey arrived at the Tulsa airport in September 1979. Phillips headquarters was about 50 miles north in Bartlesville, OK. I picked him up with a Russian translator in tow, not knowing if Evsey was proficient in English. He was not, and he had his own translator in tow. A series of accounts will follow at appropriate time intervals to describe how Russian and U.S. VSP technologies began to interact after Hardage and Gal’perin shook hands and exchanged smiles at the Tulsa airport in September 1979.

Bob Hardage
Bob A. Hardage

Bob A. Hardage received a PhD in physics from Oklahoma State University. His thesis work focused on high-velocity micro-meteoroid impact on space vehicles, which required trips to Goddard Space Flight Center to do finite-difference modeling on dedicated computers. Upon completing his university studies, he worked at Phillips Petroleum Company for 23 years and was Exploration Manager for Asia and Latin America when he left Phillips. He moved to WesternAtlas and worked 3 years as Vice President of Geophysical Development and Marketing. He then established a multicomponent seismic research laboratory at the Bureau of Economic Geology and served The University of Texas at Austin as a Senior Research Scientist for 28 years. He has published books on VSP, cross-well profiling, seismic stratigraphy, and multicomponent seismic technology. He was the first person to serve 6 years on the Board of Directors of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). His Board service was as SEG Editor (2 years), followed by 1-year terms as First VP, President Elect, President, and Past President. SEG has awarded him a Special Commendation, Life Membership, and Honorary Membership. He wrote the AAPG Explorer column on geophysics for 6 years. AAPG honored him with a Distinguished Service award for promoting geophysics among the geological community.

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