Experimental geoscience: subsoil under the microscope

Advanced instruments allow us to extract valuable information from small rock samples to produce energy.


Rock is still very much our working habitat. Going back to the era when rocks formed underground and studying their composition, porousness and permeability, so as to reconstruct the ancient environments in which the original organic material was deposited, remain key operations in studying the formation of fields and hydrocarbons and extending them. To do this work as best we can, we equip our laboratories with ever more advanced skills and equipment, to analyse both the organic and inorganic parts of the samples we extract based on where the fields are. With highly sophisticated tools of analysis, like innovative triaxial cells and X-ray microtomography, we extract information from ever smaller samples without losing resolution or representativeness.


Classic mineralogical and petrophysical analysis usually calls for rock samples that are big and in good condition, but these are not always available. The ones obtained from drilling often get damaged. They can also come from exploratory wells and be smaller than the ones ideal for standard tests. To improve efficiency and sustainability in exploration and production, it has become necessary even with these little samples to use analysis methods that do not lose any information. The large sections of rock extracted since the early 1930s, when oil exploration began, the so-called cores, are still a treasure trove of information. By getting unimpeded to the earth's bowels, we can reproduce the time sequence for hydrocarbons, whose story goes back millions of years and is very useful to our exploration, production, EOR and flow assurance work.

Technological challenge

In the field of applied mineralogical and petrophysical analysis for the Oil & Gas industry, what makes a company stand out is its ability to analyse small rock samples, like those taken when drilling wells. Reliable data on the structure of subsoil from relatively small samples lets us optimise exploration work, because it provides us with a far wider range of information that can be integrated with analysis of cores and seismic surveys. To carry out this kind of analysis we have equipped ourselves with a special triaxial device that can do complete geomechanical analyses of rock samples no longer than a centimetre. There are only three such tools in the world, and one of them is in our laboratories. This complete analysis, in terms of elastic, acoustic, deformative and compressible properties, is useful for later studies into production, planning and checks for extraction, field simulation and assessment of the structural stability of wells and cap rock. Another tool we use to analyse little samples is the X-ray microtomograph, a cutting-edge machine that provides high-resolution 3D images describing the porousness and permeability of rock, in order to evaluate, respectively, the volume and mobility of the hydrocarbons in its cavities. All these different areas of information complement each other and are integrated with images from the scanning electron microscope (SEM). Altogether, this data constitutes important input for subsoil models made by the HPC system. It allows us to carry out accurate, fast studies of fields through innovative petrophysical analysis, even when the samples at our disposal are few or damaged.

Industrial integration

All analyses at our laboratory in the field of experimental geoscience are in the service of greater quality, efficiency and sustainability in our processes and products. One point of strategy we are particularly attentive to is maintaining our leading status in technology in the field of exploration. It is a competitive advantage for which we are often noted and which lets us reach especially ambitious goals. The progressive innovations we continue to introduce are integrated with existing methods with a view to progressively improving in many specialist areas, like geochemicals, mineralogy, biostratigraphy, petrophysics, geomechanics and EOR and developing our own chemicals to produce less process water. In mineralogy, in particular, we have developed an integrated mineralogical analysis (IMA) approach, combining the results of analyses of diffraction and X-ray fluorescence with infrared spectroscopy to get a mineralogical analysis that is complete and more reliable. The huge amount of data collected at our laboratories is then put into the HPC, so the different pieces of information can be integrated and processed. The added value of our researchers' skills and experience is further exploited by the power of our supercomputer. 

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Environmental impact

We have tools and skills that allow us to do in-depth analysis of small samples, in part to make our exploration and production work more sustainable. Analysing underground rocks with these systems lets us reduce the number of standard operations needed to identify new fields, reducing their environmental impact. The possibility of processing this data with our supercomputer also means we can use it for Upstream operations, using models to reconstruct subsoil and thereby improving the efficiency and environmental impact of those operations.