Vertical Seismic Profiling – history, science and geopolitics by Dr. Bob Hardage

Dr. Bob Hardage, one of our colleagues, recently shared a remarkable story that highlights the history of Vertical Seismic Profiling (VSP).  Bob has been both a researcher and proponent of the technique since its inception in the mid-50’s.  Not to steal Bob’s thunder, but his new work is in applying machine learning to VSP, which may indeed be the breakthrough that this early technique has needed.  We hope you enjoy this account as much as we have:

The first publicly circulated example of VSP data was published in Geophysics in 1958 by Exxon researchers. The data were not top quality because traces had to be recorded with analog equipment. Even so, this first vertical profile demonstrated the rich information contained in VSP data. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S became interested in VSP, and the concept was abandoned for lack of interest. In contrast to U.S. geophysicists, Soviet researchers embraced this VSP idea and initiated a serious VSP research effort. The principal investigator was Dr. Evsey Gal’perin, who supervised a major research group in Moscow. Gal-perin published a book about his VSP work in 1972 in Russian language. SEG then translated Gal’perin’s book into English in 1977.

I supervised a group of seismic stratigraphy researchers at Phillips Petroleum in the 1970s, got a copy of Gal’perin’s book, read it, concluded VSP could be vital in seismic stratigraphy applications, and initiated a VSP research program at Phillips. I recorded my first VSP in early 1979, and Phillips managed to get Gal’perin to come work with me in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for 3 months during the summer of 1979. In order to get Gal’perin into the U.S., the Department of State required Phillips to “share” Gal’perin with the U.S. industry and to not keep him constrained to Phillips activities. To satisfy part of this federal requirement, Phillips brought 120 top executives of U.S. oil companies and service companies to Bartlesville for a 2-day VSP seminar that featured Gal-perin. Gal’perin could not speak English, and all of his lectures had to be translated in live mode. I contributed to this seminar by presenting the VSP work we had just done at Phillips. Not a single other U.S. person could present anything about VSP. It turned out that no VSP data had been recorded in the U.S. since 1958 when Exxon researchers published their paper in Geophysics. I was stunned.

My VSP data were better than Gal-perin’s data, even though he had been in the game for more than 20 years, and my experience was less than 1 year. The reason was that Gal’perin had to use analog equipment to record his data; whereas, I used high-quality digital recorders. More importantly, I had computers and software to process my digital data, but Gal-perin had to use analog devices and procedures to create simple data products. I had one technician and one workstation devoted to VSP. Gal’perin used a large number of people, mostly women he said, to do mechanical manipulations of his analog data. I have no idea how they did their analog processing.

Gal-perin went back to Moscow in the Fall of 1979. I was supposed to join him there in Spring 1980 and stay 2 months to learn more about Soviet VSP field practice. However, the USSR invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, political tensions grew fast, and my trip to Moscow was canceled.

The 2-day VSP seminar at Phillips spurred the U.S. geophysical community into action to develop and practice VSP technology. Seeing and hearing Gal’perin was the catalyst. Because of my contribution to the seminar, I became known as the U.S. expert in VSP. This was not a deserved title. I had no idea about the significance of what I had done. I stumbled to the forefront of VSP technology only because I was searching for a better way to practice seismic stratigraphy.

The first English language sentences Gal’perin spoke were he would point to himself and say “Father of VSP”, then point at me and say “Son of VSP”. I considered that title an honor. A few months after Gal’perin returned to Moscow, a publishing company asked me to write a VSP book in English. Surprisingly, Phillips management told me “Do it”. As a result, I published the first book in English on the topic of VSP in 1983. Edition 1 sold out in 2 years, and Edition 2 was published in 1985. Edition 3 was published in 2000.

After the first edition was published, I was asked to teach VSP schools around the world for almost 2 years. I have continued to teach VSP schools, by request, in many international locations. I suppose I have introduced several 1000s of people to VSP. Numerous oil companies and service companies have focused on VSP since the early days of VSP expansion. Today, VSP data are a standard commodity around the world. Quite a change from 1979. It was exciting to witness the fast spurt growth of VSP once the genie was released from the bottle.

In the late 1980s, Gal’perin returned to the U.S. to visit a series of service companies. I was to met him at the SEG convention. As I approached the entry door into the area where SEG attendees registered, a man was leaning against the wall. I was reaching for the door handle when the man said “Bob, it’s Gal’perin!”. He was a thin shadow of the Gal’perin I knew, was obviously a very sick man, and was unrecognizable.

Gal’perin explained he had cancer, could not be treated in the Soviet Union, and needed help. The first company he was to visit was Oyo Geospace. I walked him to the Oyo booth where we had a quick discussion with Oyo people. Oyo got Gal’perin immediately to cancer specialists. It was too late to take any curative action. He was told, “Go home to family, your time is short”. He obeyed, returned to Moscow, and died a month later. The Father of VSP was gone. Oyo paid Gal’perin’s hospital bill, which was a bit more than $30,000. I contacted other companies Gal’perin was to visit and asked them to assist Oyo with their medical expense. Some did I understand.

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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