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Exploration Runner-Up - Adrok Ltd. - The Virtual Borehole

A new technology remotely identifies hydrocarbons

When it comes to wildcatting, a petroleum company can spend hundreds of millions of dollars gathering data in order to create a suite of prospective targets. But until the drill bit hits the reservoir, there’s no telling if that sweet spot is full of oil or salty water—until now, that is. “We can show if the prospect contains hydrocarbons prior to drilling,” says Gordon Stove, managing director of Adrok Ltd. “We call this virtual borehole technology.”

LOW IMPACT Adrok's exploration technology, seen here deployed in Northern Ireland, is compact enough to be mounted on an all-terrain vehicle.

Adrok has devised the Adrok Scanner, an exploration system that uses finely focused electromagnetic (EM) radiation to penetrate up to four kilometres into the earth and analyze the rock properties of each formation. An Edinburgh, Scotland–based company, Adrok has captured the attention of Vancouver-based Teck Resources Limited, a diversified mining company with interests in the oilsands. Teck invested $5 million in the firm recently to help further develop the technology.

The invention has been several decades in the making, ever since Stove’s father, Colin Stove, was conducting ground penetration experiments for the European Space Agency. Conventional wisdom had dictated that EM energy could only penetrate a few centimetres into the ground, but when Colin Stove directed radar waves into a Scottish beach, he managed to image the water table several metres down. Subsequent research led to the development of atomic dielectric resonance (ADR).

The Adrok Scanner emits highly focused beams of non-visible laser, microwaves and radar waves. The beams travel through the ground; each formation encountered emits a secondary resonant energy response. The resonant energy response is then recorded in terms of energy, frequency and phase, and compared to a comprehensive classification library in order to identify the chemical composition and fluids present in each rock.

The process is designed to be deployed in conjunction with other techniques. “We are a complementary part of an oil and gas exploration program,” says Stove. “After a company conducts a seismic survey and pinpoints promising anomalies, we run a smaller survey over the bright spots.”

Because the bandwidth is tightly focused and the amount of energy used extremely small, the Adrok Scanner is compact enough to be deployed on a suspended wire system or mounted on an all-terrain vehicle. A survey typically covers a few square kilometres and can be conducted and interpreted in five days.

In 2007, London, United Kingdom–based Caithness Petroleum Limited contracted Adrok to conduct a survey in Morocco. Adrok delineated a gas reservoir at a depth of 750 metres; subsequent drilling confirmed the discovery. Since then, the company has conducted surveys for Caithness in the United States. “Adrok carried out an ADR survey to a depth of 8,000 feet on an undrilled prospect in Oklahoma, which identified gas-bearing Ordovician sandstone at 7,500 feet,” says Robert Kennedy, commercial director of Caithness.

“The well was then drilled and a commercial gas discovery was made at a depth within 0.3 per cent of the Adrok forecast,” he says. “In my opinion, ADR has developed into an extremely powerful and effective hydrocarbon exploration and appraisal tool.”

Adrok is also working with the mining sector. The company conducted a survey for Teck Resources in an underground mine in Washington State, independently identifying the water table and resources in a blind test. The company has subsequently searched for uranium deposits in the Athabasca Basin and for nickel around Sudbury.

Currently, Adrok conducts 25–30 projects each year. It plans to expand up to 40 per cent annually over the next several years, primarily by focusing on the North American market. Adrok is working on technology that would allow aerial surveys, expanding its capabilities into the realm of larger-scale seismic. Adrok is also looking to expand into downhole production monitoring, geothermal resource delineation and groundwater mapping.

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