Shell SA has invested R5-million over a five-year period to help create a Seismology Reflection Centre at Wits University.

The centre aims to develop innovative technologies to discover what lies beneath the earth; and to help address the significant skills shortage in the geophysics and petroleum engineering fields, and other key sectors that drive development on the continent.

Housed in the School of Geosciences, the facilities at the centre will be used to provide world-class geophysical training to students across Africa in order to acquire knowledge and skills that are demanded by the oil, gas and mineral industries.

Shell SA and Wits academics recognised that skills development in these areas is essential for Africa’s economic growth.

“The Centre is aiming to collaborate with government, private sectors, mineral, oil and gas industries and other institutions in Africa to assist in alleviating the skills gap and to provide our youth with the chance of a better future,” says Dr Musa Manzi, director of the new centre.

Manzi oversees eight postgraduate students who are conducting research on the processing and interpretation of the 2D and 3D seismic data. This research is aimed at high-resolution mapping of some of the world’s deepest gold and platinum-bearing horizons from South African mines, which is significant for the country’s economy.

The research also seeks to develop new techniques that would allow the detection of methane conduits (faults and dykes) in deep underground mines, which will mitigate risks and hazards associated with methane explosions.

Additionally, the research could lead to better mapping and characterisation of the oil and gas reservoirs, and gas-escape features affecting them, from some of the major African basins with particular interests in the offshore Orange
basin and onshore Karoo basin of South Africa.

Manzi says the state-of-the-art techniques and high-end computer graphics capability provide a good platform for the processing, interpretation and modelling of a huge volume of integrated data in 3D space.

“This partnership between Shell and Wits is a wonderful example of how we can bridge our institutional boundaries to address our collective challenges. The net effect is that we all benefit: students have world-class facilities to train in, and industry gets both enhanced human resource capacities and innovative solutions to their operational challenges,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits University’s vice-chancellor and principal.

Shell SA and the geophysical service company CGG are jointly responsible for funding the computer hardware which costs about R1-million.

“At Shell and in this case in partnership with Wits, we are supporting skills and capacity development, innovation and technology to help develop a more prosperous future and responsibly unlock energy to power lives and improve living standards,” says Shell SA’s GM for Upstream, Jan Willem Eggink.

Manzi explains that the centre aims to also attract students from an array of fields from geophysics to engineering. He adds that the purpose of the centre is to do research, train and teach students from all spheres of Africa in order maximise a number of highly-skilled geoscience professionals in Africa.

Professor Roger Gibson, Head of the Wits School of Geosciences, says the school is the largest geosciences postgraduate training facility in Africa and attracts a significant number of international students, mostly from Africa.

“The school plays a significant role in developing Wits’ research and capacity-building footprint on the continent. With the opening of the centre, we anticipate increased interest from students from Africa interested in, but not confined to, the petroleum and natural gas sectors.

“With the increasing number of new petroleum and natural gas discoveries being made in central and southern Africa in recent years, this centre provides an excellent training facility to develop high-level manpower needs for this growing field. We would like to thank Shell and CGG for their commitment to growing this talent, and to the numerous companies who have provided access to their software and data,” Gibson adds.