Case studies

Acoustic sensing technology for the oil and gas industry

Our research into distributed optical fibre sensing has had a significant economic and environmental impact within the oil and gas industries.

Conventional electronic-based reservoir monitoring has limitations as it requires complex wiring, is prone to failure and only allows the integration of a limited number of sensors. As oil becomes harder to find today’s reservoirs are being situated further offshore and at greater depths, leading to an increased need for more reliable ways of transmitting sensor signals over longer distances and in deeper seas.

Optical fibre sensing technology is widely used to monitor and protect underground infrastructure such as pipes and cables and is applied to a wide range of industries including defence, security and civil engineering. Its most significant application is in the oil and gas industries.

Research at Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre has made a significant and commercially viable contribution to this field through the development of a variety of optical fibre sensors that allow accurate measurement of acoustic fields: temperature and strain distributions along fibres more than 100km long.

Our team has developed new techniques for accurately locating disturbances along installed fibres, using various forms of fibre-based interferometry. Our findings proved that optical fibres could be remotely located and probed with high spatial resolution and high sensitivity, which has led to the formation of start-up company Sensoptics.

In collaboration with Stingray Geophysical, a leader in the use of fibre-optic sensing technology for seismic permanent reservoir monitoring applications, the team demonstrated that multiple interferometric acoustic sensors could be interrogated with high sensitivity over distances of more than 500km.

Further collaboration with Sensa Schlumberger, a world leader in fibre optic temperature sensing, led to techniques that could accurately determine temperature and strain distribution over distances of up to 150km, greatly extending the range of technological applications in pipeline monitoring.

Click to read more about the financial and environmental impact of this research.