Seismic reflection is the most effective exploration tool available to the oil and gas industry, using the transmission of sound waves through the earth and their reflections off different geological features to build up a detailed 3D image of subsurface hydrocarbon deposits. But the technique never gained traction in hard-rock applications, due to a combination of technical challenges caused by the higher-density mineralisation, more complex geology, and the high relative cost of surveys versus drilling in mineral exploration.
3D seismic reflection has only been successfully transferred to the minerals industry relatively recently, through the efforts of Professor Anton Kepic and Associate Professor Milovan Urosevic from Curtin University’s Centre for High Definition Geophysics. They developed a unique combination of novel sampling equipment, low-footprint survey design, innovative data processing algorithms, and a combination of image analysis techniques and seismic processing expertise to demonstrate that the method could be adapted to complex hard-rock geological environments and deliver value for mineral exploration.
The underpinning technology development dates from 2002, where the new data processing algorithms were successfully demonstrated on a large 2D hard-rock high-resolution seismic project. The subsequent establishment of the Centre for High Definition Geophysics at Curtin in 2005 allowed Urosevic and Kepic to pursue their over-arching aim to make seismic reflection industrially-relevant and commercially viable for deep mineral exploration. Technique development and thirty-five increasingly successful field trials gradually attracted strong industry interest and the potential to commercialise the technology. The spin-out company HiSeis Pty Ltd was created by Curtin in 2009 to meet the increasing demand for commercial seismic imaging in the minerals industry. Its first ‘operational’ staff appointments were made in 2011.
HiSeis’ operational model does much more than ‘tweak’ the existing oil and gas seismic tool. It addresses the entire working methodology from planning, data acquisition, processing, and interpretation to hand-over to the asset owner, providing an exploration tool that the industry was desperately in need of. Seismic reflection addresses the problem of discovering mineral deposits that are deep and under cover – where drilling exploration becomes much more costly and risky. With shallow high-grade mineral deposits becoming increasingly hard to find, its time has come.
HiSeis is now the leading seismic services company specialising in hard-rock mineral deposits. Using cost-effective, high definition seismic reflection techniques and custom designed 2D and 3D seismic survey methods, it helps mining companies fast-track mineral discovery, reduce exploration and mining costs, and improve mine planning and safety.
Kepic and Urosevic’s work to establish seismic reflection as a useful method for mineral exploration addressed a growing industry need, and as such has already made a significant impact. HiSeis has operated profitably since its inception, and continues to achieve strong financial performance.
HiSeis now works for blue-chip mining companies across the globe. Customers include AngloGold Ashanti, BHP, Evolution Mining, Fortescue Metals Group, Lundin Mining, Mincor Resources NL, MMG, Northern Star Resources Limited, Rio Tinto and Sandfire Resources NL.
HiSeis is also adding significantly to Perth’s growing reputation as a mining services hub. The innovative approach of the business has been recognised through it being listed as a finalist for both the WA Innovator of the Year (2013) and The Australian Innovation Challenge (2014).
This story is from A Decade of Impact
A Decade of Impact is a series that showcases some of Curtin’s most impactful research projects in recent years. The chosen research projects are examples of how Curtin translates its research into economic, environmental and social impact.