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Total will conduct the first Metis® seismic acquisition in the deserts of the United Arab Emirates. The pilot site will be an Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) onshore field, where thousands of next-generation wireless sensors, dropped by a smart, automated fleet of drones, will take high-density, 3D seismic images of the subsurface.

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Bertrand Duquet

Exploration

From the Papua New Guinea Jungle to the Abu Dhabi Desert

In late 2017, the Metis® Phase I Pilot validated several key subassemblies of this ground-breaking acquisition system in one of the world’s hardest-to-access exploration areas, the mountainous jungles of Papua New Guinea. The Metis® Phase II Pilot will take place, from late 2019 through early 2020, in a very different environment. This time the backdrop will be Abu Dhabi’s desert sand dunes.

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ADNOC was eager to participate in the pilot through a partnership signed during the year. The innovative solutions used by Metis® — dropping wireless seismic sensors by aerial drone and using a ground robot to recover them — are clearly aligned with ADNOC’s interest in more automated oil exploration and production processes. The key goals are to optimize operating efficiency and costs, while reducing personnel exposure to HSE risks, a critical issue in extreme desert heat. Metis® is an efficient solution, employing fewer operators on the ground than conventional seismic acquisition campaigns and significantly reducing their movements in the field.

First Automated Flight of a Drone Fleet

The Metis® Phase II Pilot will be the first test of an automated aerial drone fleet system. It will use six drones — five drones to drop sensors known as DARTs® (for “Downfall Air Receiver Technology”) and one surveillance drone dedicated to operational safety. Piloted by a single operator at a ground control station (GCS), this innovative system based on an artificial intelligence solution will enable the inter-communicating drones to:

  • Automatically determine the best routes for deploying the DARTs® as efficiently as possible.
  • Adapt autonomously to changes in their environment, whether in the air (e.g. an unexpected aerial intrusion) or on the ground (e.g. the presence of people or animals), by updating their flight paths and DART® drop plans in real time.

Drone missions will take into account the information supplied in real time by Command & Control, the “nerve center” for real-time monitoring of personnel and ground equipment, and its safety clearance procedure. The state-of-the-art safety system developed for Metis® works in tandem with the aerial, visual safety clearance system built into the drones. It also manages a 3D geofencing system that creates an exclusion zone around people, vehicles, buildings (base camp, etc.) and installations (pipelines, etc.), prohibiting drones from flying over them.

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A New Generation of Drones and DARTs® to Optimize Operational Efficiency

The smart drone for the Metis® Phase II Pilot is designed to be both efficient and modular. New features include the carrousel loaded with the drone’s DARTs® and batteries, which can easily be removed to simplify and speed up reloading.

The DART’s® design was tailored to the new drone so that the two would interact as seamlessly as possible. A communications system between the drone and the DART®, equipped with accelerometers and a tiltmeter, will enable the drone to check that each sensor is correctly placed on the ground before dropping the next one.

To further automate acquisition, an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), integrated into the drone fleet control system, will be used to recover the DARTs® automatically and take them back to the operating base.

Carpet Recording: an Acquisition Design that Yields High-Density, 3D Subsurface Imaging

The pilot will drop some 4,000 DARTs®, in successive sequences, to densely carpet the 30 square kilometers of the acquisition area with sensors, in line with the METIS® carpet recording concept. This innovative acquisition design will produce the first high-density, 3D seismic image of the subsurface using the Metis® system.

Prior to the operation, a very high-resolution digital terrain model will be produced by light detection and ranging (LIDAR) acquisition. This will enable the pilot team to identify the best positions for the receivers and seismic sources, based on terrain topography, and to determine the best travel routes in and around the dunes for the thumper trucks and the UGV.

Using a wireless communications system for the first time, the DARTs® will send data in real time to the laboratory, which will carry out their QA/QC as the data is acquired.

When this demonstration pilot is complete, the Metis® R&D project will prepare a new pilot scheduled for 2022. To be conducted on a commercial scale over an area of 100 square kilometers, it will use dozens of drones to drop tens of thousands of DARTs® in the Papua New Guinea foothills, marking the final phase in the development of this revolutionary acquisition system.

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