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Advanced Seismic While Drilling System
Project Number

The goal of this project is to design and develop a new, advanced seismic-while-drilling (SWD) system that provides real-time vertical seismic profile (VSP) data that allows operators to “see” ahead of the drill bit. Such a system would a) provide lower costs when compared with conventional VSP, b) increase safety and cost savings by detecting unexpected increased pore pressure ahead of the bit, c) allow operators to verify pre-drill reservoir models to “see” and steer towards more optimal targets, and d) provide new operational capabilities when drilling gas-bearing formations at depths greater than 15,000 feet.


Technology International, Inc. (TII), Kingwood, TX
RBI-Gearhart, Fort Worth, TX
GE Energy Systems, Houston, TX
Input/Output, Inc. (I/O), Houston, TX 
Knowledge Systems, Inc. (KSI) , Sugar Land, TX


TII designed and tested acoustically augmented seismic drill bits (SDBs) where a unique seismic source is built into a hybrid polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC)-roller cone bit. The new seismic source can be adapted to conventional PDC and roller cone bits to create seismic signals that can be received by the surface monitoring system from depths beyond 15,000 feet. The acoustic source can be activated at any time, thereby triggering the source to generate acoustic signals required to reflect from formations ahead of the bit, then travel to and be recorded at the surface. The seismic information will be recorded and rapidly processed, in real-time, to provide detailed imaging of targets about 600 feet ahead of the bit. Without interfering with normal drilling operations, this integrated approach will provide an advanced SWD system that will give the petroleum industry the capability for real-time imaging and warning of impending well control problems.

The SWD service is being designed for onshore and offshore gas wells in harsh environments where corrosive conditions and high temperatures and pressures occur. No SWD system with the full capabilities of the proposed system is currently known to exist. The advanced SWD system a) provides increased accuracy and resolution of seismic and other geological and geophysical methods; b) provides a new methodology for data acquisition, processing, interpretation, and data sets and generating from them refined geologic and engineering models that guide discovery of new gas reserves; c) facilitates new gas field development; and d) increases economic gas recovery and improved well economics.

The primary objectives of Phase 1 were to complete the laboratory-based development and testing of a novel acoustic-seismic source; design, build, and bench-scale test the various components of the SDB system; and develop a test plan for assessing the newly developed components at the University of Texas’ Devine test site.

The Devine field test—from 1,800-foot well depth to surface MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) detectors— took place in mid-October 2005 and provided valuable information and insights into what type and style of drill bits will be necessary at different drilling depths in order to produce the acoustic signals necessary for this system to work adequately. The field test also provided insights into the system requirements that the acoustic-seismic source will need at different drilling depths.

TII began working on the design and fabrication of hybrid PDC-roller cone SDBs for use in this project. The drill bit design requirements were developed with RBI-Gearhart (now Ulterra Drilling Technologies). As part of this effort, flow-loop testing at the University of Tulsa drilling laboratory to further test the sparker-coupler design was conducted. In addition, draft power generation and control subsystem specifications have been developed.

A new source to generate seismic information from subsurface was developed. The new capability will enable operators to look ahead about 600 ft to steer the bit toward sweet spots and away from hazards such as pockets of high pressure gas.

Current Status

(January 2009)
This project is complete. The final report is available below under "Additional Information".

This project was awarded funding under a 2004 DOE solicitation targeting deep gas and tight gas resources. The awards were announced in December 2004.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL - John Terneus ( or 304-285-4254)
Technology International Inc. (TII) - Robert Radtke ( or 281-359-8520)

Additional Information