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Copyright 2001-2009
Hectori, Inc.


Surface Exploration for Hydrocarbons

Geochemically-based surface exploration for petroleum is the search for chemically identifiable surface or near-surface occurrences of hydrocarbons, or hydrocarbon-induced changes in the soil or near-surface lithology. These occurrences or changes are important clues to the location of oil and gas accumulations. Surface exploration encompasses a range of observations from clearly visible oil and gas seepage (macroseepage) at one extreme to identification of minute traces of hydrocarbons (microseepage) or hydrocarbon-induced changes at the other.

The surface manifestation of hydrocarbon seepage can take many forms, including anomalous hydrocarbon concentrations in sediments and waters; microbial and botanical anomalies; mineralogic changes; and altered electrical, magnetic, and seismic properties of near-surface sediments. These varied expressions of hydrocarbon seepage have led to the development of an equally diverse array of surface exploration techniques. Some are geochemical in nature, some are explicitly geophysical, and others fall under the general category of remote sensing.

Surface geochemical methods have been used since the 1920's, but the past decade has seen a renewed interest in geochemical and related surface exploration methods. This, together with developments in analytical and interpretive methods, have produced a new body of data and insights about geochemical exploration for oil and gas. Many of these developments are summarized in the American Association of Petroleum Geologists' (AAPG) Memoir 66, "Hydrocarbon Migration and Its Near-Surface Effects." Studies published in that volume document that hydrocarbon seepage from oil and gas accumulations (1) is common and widespread, (2) is predominantly vertical (with obvious exceptions in some geologic settings), and (3) is dynamic in nature.

A book, "Surface Exploration Case Histories: Applications of Geochemical, Magnetic, and Remote Sensing" published in September 2002 jointly by the AAPG and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG), has been inspired by the success of AAPG Memoir 66, and by the requests from industry colleagues for a collection of exploration case histories that demonstrate the proper acquisition, interpretation, and integration of geochemical data with conventional geologic and seismic data. The objective in publishing the new case history papers is to demonstrate the number and variety of successfully employed surface exploration methods available to the oil and gas industry.

Dietmar Schumacher and Leonard A. LeSchack, President of Hectori Inc., are the co-editors of this new surface exploration case history volume, and this and the following web page have been adapted from their "Introduction" to that volume.



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