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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Distributed electric field sensing using fibre optics in borehole environments


In the past decade, rapid advances in distributed optical fibre sensing technologies have made it possible to record various geophysical data (e.g. strain, temperature and pressure) continuously in both time and space along the fibre, providing an unprecedented quantity and spatial density of data compared to traditional geophysical measurements as well as reducing data acquisition cost. To date, no distributed fibre-based electromagnetic field sensing system has been implemented although electromagnetic sensing could have a broad range of applications to geophysical imaging and monitoring in borehole environments. The goal of this paper is to provide a theoretical feasibility study regarding the design and use of an electromagnetic sensing optical fibre for geophysical applications. First, we present the sensitivity analysis of a ‘hypothetical’ optical fibre coated with polyvinylidene fluoride, a polymer that provides relatively high piezoelectric properties, yet unlike ceramics, is flexible. Using a two-dimensional electromagnetic modelling algorithm, we simulate the earth electric-field-to-fibre-strain transfer function and estimate the theoretical sensitivity of the optical fibre to electric fields. Given the state-of-the-art distributed acoustic sensing strain sensitivities in the picometres strain range, our numerical modelling analysis suggests that a perfectly coupled polyvinylidene fluoride–coated optical fibre can measure electric field values in the mV/m to V/m amplitude range. We then apply a cylindrically symmetric modelling algorithm to simulate numerical models demonstrating the applicability of such a fibre in an oilfield environment. Scenarios investigated employ an electric field source and suggest that the measurements can be used to distinguish the oil versus water ratio with a fibre mounted inside a producing steel cased oil well as well as distinguishing between brine and hydrocarbon filled reservoir zones with a fibre located outside of the casing.

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