Geophysical and geological logging

There is a wide range of instruments, geophysical logging tools, that are lowered down a borehole to record the physical and chemical properties of the rocks. These instruments are mounted on a device called a sonde that is lowered down the drill hole (on a wireline) once the drill string has been removed. Data from these instruments are recorded at the surface as the sonde passes up through the formations. An alternative technique is to fix a sonde mounted with logging instruments behind the drill bit and record data as drilling proceeds. The tools can be broadly divided into those that are concerned with the petrophysics of the formations, that is, the physical properties of the rocks and the fluids that they contain, and geological tools that provide sedimentological information. The interpretation of all the data is usually referred to as formation evaluation – the determination of the nature and properties of formations in the subsurface. Many of these tools are now used in combinations and provide an integrated output that indicates parameters such as sand:mud ratio, porosity, permeability and hydrocarbon saturation.

Petrophysical logging tools

Caliper log

The width of the borehole is initially determined by the size of the drill bit used, but it can vary depending on the nature of the lithology and the permeability of the formation. The borehole wall may cave in where there are less indurated lithologies such as mudrocks, and this can be seen as an anomalously wide interval of the hole. The caliper log can also detect parts of the borehole where the diameter is reduced by the accumulation of a mud cake on the inside: mud cakes are made up of the solid suspension in the drilling mud and form where there is a porous and permeable bed that allows the drilling fluid to penetrate, leaving the mud filtered out on the borehole wall.

Gamma-ray log

This records the natural gamma radioactivity in the rocks that comes from the decay of isotopes of potassium, uranium and thorium. The main use of this tool is to distinguish between mudrocks, which generally have a high potassium content and hence high natural radioactivity, and sandstone and limestone, both of which normally have a lower natural radioactivity. The gamma-ray log is often used to determine the ‘sand: shale ratio’ in a clastic succession (note that for petrophysical purposes, all mudrocks are called 'shales'). However, it should be noted that mica, feldspar, glauconite and some heavy minerals are also radioactive, and sandstones rich in any of these cannot always be distinguished from mudstones using this tool. Organic-rich rocks can also be detected with this tool because uranium is often naturally associated with organic matter. Mudrocks with high organic contents are sometimes referred to as 'hot shales' because of their high natural radioactivity. The spectral gamma-ray log records the radioactivity due to potassium, thorium and uranium separately, allowing the signal due to clay minerals to be separated from radioactivity associated with organic matter.

Resistivity logs

Resistivity logging tools are a range of instruments that are used to measure the electrical conductivity of the rocks and their pore fluids by passing an electrical current from one part of the sonde, through the rocks of the borehole wall measuring the current at another part of the sonde. Most minerals are poor conductors, with the exception of clay minerals that have charged ions in their structures. The resistivity measurements provide information about the composition of the pore fluids because hydrocarbons and fresh water are poor electrical conductors but saline groundwater is a good conductor of electricity. Resistivity logging tools are usually configured so that they are able to measure the resistivity at different distances into the formation away from the borehole wall. A microresistivity tool records the properties at the borehole wall, a ‘shallow’ log measures a short distance into the formation and a 'deep' log records the current that has passed through the formation well away from the borehole (these are sometimes called laterologs). Comparison of readings at different distances from the borehole wall can provide an indication of how far the drilling mud has penetrated into the formation and this gives a measure of the formation permeability. Induction logs are resistivity tools that indirectly generate and measure the electrical properties by the process of induction of a current.

Sonic log

The velocity of sound waves in the formation is determined by using a tool that comprises a pulsing sound source and receiver microphone that records how long it has taken for the sound to pass through the rock near the borehole. The sonic velocity is dependent upon two factors. First, lithologies composed of high-density material transmit sound faster than low-density rocks: for example, coal is a low-density material, basalt is high-density, and sandstones and limestones have intermediate densities. Second, if the rock is porous, the bulk density of the formation will be reduced, and hence the sonic velocity, so if the lithology is known, the porosity can be calculated, or vice versa. The velocities determined by this tool can be used for depth conversion of seismic reflection profiles.

Density logs

These tools operate by emitting gamma radiation and detecting the proportion of the radiation that returns to detectors on the tool. The amount of radiation returned is proportional to the electron density of the material bombarded and this is in turn proportional to the overall density of the formation. If the lithology is known, the porosity can be calculated as density decreases with increased porosity. The application of this tool is therefore very similar to that of the sonic logging tool.

Neutron logs

In this instance the tool has a source that emits neutrons and a detector that measures the energy of returning neutrons. Neutrons lose energy by colliding with a particle of similar mass, a hydrogen nucleus, so this logging tool effectively measures the hydrogen concentration of the formation. Hydrogen is mostly present in the pore spaces in the rock filled by formation fluids, oil or water (which have approximately the same hydrogen ion concentration) so the neutron log provides a measure of the porosity of the formation. However, clay minerals contain hydrogen ions as part of the mineral structure, so this tool does not provide a reliable indicator of the porosity in mudrocks or muddy sandstones or limestones.

Electromagnetic propagation log

The dielectric properties of the formation fluids are measured with this tool. It consists of microwave transmitters that propagate a pulse of electromagnetic energy through the formation and measures the attenuation of the wave with receivers. The measurements are related to the dielectric constant of the formation, which is in turn determined by the amount of water present. The tool therefore can be used to distinguish between oil and water in porous formations.

Nuclear magnetic resonance logs

Conventional porosity determination techniques do not provide information about the size of the pore spaces or how easily the fluid can be removed from those pores. Fluids that are bound to the surface of grains by capillary action cannot easily be removed and are therefore not producible fluids, and if pore spaces are small more fluid will be bound into the formation. The nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) tool works by producing a strong magnetic field that polarises hydrogen nuclei in water and hydrocarbons. When the field is switched off the hydrogen nuclei relax to their previous state, but the rate at which they do so, the relaxation time, increases if they interact with grain surfaces. Measurement of the electromagnetic 'echo' produced during the relaxation period can thus be used as a measure of how much of the fluid is 'free' and how much of it is close to, and bound on to, grain surfaces. The tool operates by producing a pulsed magnetic field and measuring the echo many times a second.

Geological logging tools

Dipmeter log

The sonde for this tool has four or six separate devices for measuring the resistivity at the borehole wall. They are arranged around the sonde so that if there is a difference in the resistivity on different sides of the borehole, this will be detected. If the layering in the formations is inclined due to a tectonic tilt or crossstratification it is possible to detect the degree and direction of the tilt by comparing the readings of the different, horizontal resistivity devices. Hence this tool has the potential to measure the sedimentary or tectonic dip of layering.

Microimaging tools

These tools, often called borehole scanners, are also resistivity devices and use a large number of small receiving devices to provide an image of the resistivity of the whole borehole wall. If there are fine-scale contrasts in electrical properties, for instance where there are fine alternations of clay and sand, it is possible to image sedimentary structures as well as fractures in the rock. The images generated superficially resemble a photograph of the borehole wall, but is in fact a ‘map’ of variations in the resistivity.

Ultrasonic imaging logs

High-resolution measurements of the acoustic properties of the formations in the borehole walls are made by a rotating transmitter that emits an ultrasonic pulse and then records the reflected pulse with a receiver. The main use of this tool is to detect how uneven the borehole wall is, and this can be related to both lithology and the presence of fractures.


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