Finding Hidden Oil and Gas Reserves

Supercomputers + Software + electromagnetic images yield new way to discriminate underground deposits from surrounding geology.

Image courtesy of LBNL
To map the oceanic subsurface at a scale and resolution previously unknown, EMGeo unites the latest in computing power with advanced geophysical imaging techniques.  In the image above, the blue regions contain hydrocarbon and salt – the hydrocarbon reservoir appears as a separate small, lenticular blue region above the deeper and larger salt structures.

The Science

EMGeo, a unique subsurface imaging capability, was developed that uses the latest in geophysical imaging - 3D electromagnetic data - in coordination with advanced computing methods.

The Impact

Enables investigators to determine if offshore hydrocarbon deposits exist before drilling, saving significant money in drilling costs and helping discover new sources of oil and gas; Winner of a 2009 R&D 100 Award


Seismic imaging methods have a long and established history in identifying the geological structures that indicate hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs.  However, these methodologies cannot discriminate between different types of reservoir fluids, such as brines, oils and gas, with the end result that significant time and money can go for offshore drilling without finding gas or oil.  New geophysical technologies using electromagnetic signals are sensitive to these differences if electrically resistive hydrocarbons are present. However, extracting the needed information is difficult, involving a mathematically elaborate process called inverse modeling. To make the analysis easier, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have combined advanced geophysical imaging technologies with high-performance computing algorithms to make a powerful tool for subsurface electrical resistivity mapping, EMGeo - ElectroMagnetic Geological Mapper. It exploits parallel computing power, including LBNL’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, to maximize the information that can be extracted from industrial electromagnetic surveys. The software has been licensed to several major oil and gas companies active in deep-water exploration, potentially saving billions of dollars in the detection of energy deposits. Additional research is focused on directly combining microseismic and electrical survey data for deepening the resolution of subsurface fluid maps within enhanced geothermal systems.


Gregory Newman

Michael Commer


Basic Research: DOE Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences (BES) and Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) programs

Applied Research and Development: DOE Office of Fossil Energy, MVA Focus Area; Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Geothermal Technology Program


Newman G. A., Commer M. and Carazzone J. J. “Imaging CSEM data in the presence of electrical anisotropy.” Geophysics 75 F51-F61 (2010). [DOI: 10.1190/1.3295883].

Commer, M. and Newman, G. A. “New advances in three-dimensional controlled-source electromagnetic inversion.” Geophysical Journal International 172 513–535 (2008). [DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2007.03663.x].

Newman, G. A., Recher, S., Tezkan, B. and Neubauer, F. M. “3D inversion of a scalar radio magnetotelluric field data set” Geophysics 68 782-790 (2003).

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Highlight Categories

Program: BES , CSGB

Performer: DOE Laboratory , SC User Facilities , ASCR User Facilities , NERSC

Additional: Technology Impact , Collaborations , EERE , FE