Vertical Seismic Profiling Part VII – The Historic 1979 VSP Conference at Phillips

I recently wrote a series of reminisces, each published on this Geophysical Insights home page, about the introduction of VSP practice into the U.S. I wrote all of these stories purely from memory. I planned to stop my documentation of U.S. VSP history after I wrote story #6 that described Evsey Gal’perin’s return to Moscow following the 1979 SEG Annual Meeting. However, I discovered an old file that provided details about a 2-day VSP conference convened by Phillips shortly after Evsey arrived from Russia. This conference played such an important role in initiating VSP practice in the U.S. that its details need to be known. My purpose is to acknowledge those who came to Phillips to discuss VSP concepts with Evsey. Following our 2-day conference, these people immediately dispersed across the U.S. to implement VSP.

Evsey’s visit to the U.S. was coordinated with the Department of State. A requirement imposed on Phillips was that we could not keep Evsey sequestered. Instead, we had to “share” him with the U.S. industry in some way. Phillips decided that one option that met this requirement would be to have a public conference on VSP technology that featured Evsey. Numerous U.S. geoscientists were invited to attend. The information I found in my 41-year old file now allows me to credit people who came to Phillips to meet Evsey and to listen to his VSP insights. The strong interest of these attendees in VSP was the reason why VSP technology was introduced into the U.S. quickly and efficiently.

Oil Companies Attending the 1979 VSP Conference

Phillips people dominated the conference attendance. My attendance lists show 31 people came from our domestic and international offices. This broad cross-section of Phillips’ best talent was an early hint that Phillips intended to give VSP serious consideration. Other oil companies who sent representatives to hear Evsey were Amoco, ARCO, Cities Service, Conoco, and Gulf.

Service Companies Attending the 1979 VSP Conference

Five service companies attended; some of whom no longer exist. This group included Birdwell (arguably the leader in down-hole seismic receivers at the time) and Seismic Services Company (SSC). Both companies were based in Tulsa; neither exists today. I used SSC to acquire my first two VSPs. Each VSP required about 20 straight hours of down-hole positioning of a long, floppy, 1-level, receiver tool that had only vertical geophones. Other service companies who attended were Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG), Geosource, and Schlumberger. Schlumberger sent only one person because they were not yet in the borehole seismic business.

Universities Represented at the 1979 VSP Conference

Six universities were represented at the 1979 conference. My attendance lists included Colorado School of Mines, Kansas University, MIT Lincoln Lab, Oklahoma University, Texas A&M, University of Houston, and University of Tulsa. I was surprised by the level of university interest.

Familiar Names at the 1979 VSP Conference

My old notes show that several well-known people attended the 1979 VSP conference. Nigel Anstey, the most talented lecturer I have ever known, was there. At that time, Phillips had their own TV studio that they used for internal training purposes. Nigel did geophysical training at several companies, including Phillips. He said he could lecture best if he had a “class” in front of him during each TV taping. Phillips thus made sure there were always 4 or 5 people sitting at desks in front of Nigel’s studio lectern. I made sure I was always in that group. Nigel would explain every topic smoothly and clearly in precise British grammar. He was just an awesome lecturer. His oral paper at the conference explained how VSP would be an excellent way to study rock anisotropy.

Several notables did not present papers. Instead, they provided invaluable commentary, asked key questions, and offered strong encouragements to go forward with VSP. Among these people were Paul Wuenschel (Gulf), Norm Domenico (Amoco), Milt Dobrin (University of Houston), Ed White (Colorado School of Mines), Dale Stone (SSC), Al Balch (USGS), Jim Fix and Jim DiSiena (ARCO), Ed Witterholt (Cities Service), and Stan Laster (University of Tulsa). There were several invaluable side-bar conversations among these people during the conference.

Roger Turpening described a shallow, sparse, VSP that MIT Lincoln Lab had acquired using a unique seismic source – a military mortar that fired a large bag of water (20-lb weight I think?) upward at an angle of 45-degrees. Each mortar shot imparted an impulse to the ground that allowed wavefields to be recorded by shallow down-hole receivers. Gildes Omnes of CGG presented evidence that both P and S modes could be acquired by VSP receivers. His data were not acquired in the U.S. according to my notes. My paper showed VSP data acquired with vertical-vibrator sources in exploration wells that extended to 10,000-ft depths. My data were the only VSPs shown at the conference that would be useful in oil/gas exploration. Within months, others began to collect similar data. Evsey Gal’perin gave two presentations. Each delved into the fundamental physics and principal applications of VSP.

People left this historic 2-day conference determined to pursue their own VSP interests. Collectively, all attendees spurred VSP development in the U.S.  Attendee Al Balch published a VSP book not long after I published the first English language book on VSP technology. Attendee Jim DiSiena did great VSP work at ARCO and joined with me to co-teach several VSP short courses. I really do not know who at Phillips first suggested that 1979 conference, but that recommendation was a stroke of genius that played a major role in establishing VSP practice across the U.S.

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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