Exxon: When all else fails, whip-out the psuedoscientific technobabble?

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Exxon: When all else fails, whip-out the psuedoscientific technobabble?

...Anyone else heard the Exxon ads lately? The ones about Earth's electromagnetic field wave resonance, and how they can apparently 'tap into it' to 'sense' where oil is?


I'm not a geologist or physicist, but I have been getting a bit of a feel for recognizing pseudoscientific terms whenever I hear them (they tend to include the words 'resonance' and 'waves' Sticking out tongue ). Are these guys just making stuff up now? Or is there a legitimate science that they're pursuing?

"Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full."

- Leon Trotsky, Last Will & Testament
February 27, 1940

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The ones about Earth's electromagnetic field wave resonance, and how they can apparently 'tap into it' to 'sense' where oil is?

I think that this one can actually work. It is my understanding that attempts to use electromagnetism to detect oil relate to the fact that the difference in the permittivity of oil and other materials is used to construct an image which would indicate where the oil is. A region with lower permittivity indicates oil. This basis of this principle is that there are particular constants associated with the propagation of electromagnetic waves that depend on the medium they are propagating through. These are permittivity and permeability. The former is a measure of the degree to which a region can permit an electric field. The higher the permittivity, the smaller the field strength at any particular region than if the medium had a lower permittivity. The other constant is permeability which measures the degree to which a magnetic field can permeate a region of space. Unlike permittivity, this one is directly proportional to magnetic field strength. By itself, there is nothing particularly pseudoscientific about such a principle since it is well known that different materials have different permittivity and permeability, but the meaningless term you used "electromagnetic field wave resonance" made me realize that people often use these terms (which they themselves probably don't know) to sell something absurd (alt medicine, etc.)

Do you remember that time when you pointed out that there is no "layman's guide to quantum mechanics", and as a result, anyone can bamboozle the gullible with QM and call it a day?

It's sort of the same with EM. Electromagnetism is one of the most complex topics in physics. To understand classical EM, you must be intimately familiar with vector calculus and field equations.

The term "electromagnetic field wave resonance" does not mean anything. Let's start decomposing this and understand what internal terms do make sense. I can use this topic to articulate terms that people often use carelessly. Terms like “field”, “wave”, “electromagnetism” and “resonance” all have the potential, for some reason, to induce pseudoscientific claims. Definition is important, so lets start with that.

Electromagnetic fields: Numerous pseudoscientific institutions and snake oil sellers love the term "field", and use it to justify a wide variety of nonsense. Virtually entirely, these people are unfamiliar with field equations and mechanics. Field theory arose to replace action-at-a-distance theories. Coulomb's Law, the Biot-Savart Law and Newton's Law of Gravitation are such examples. These are field equations which tell us the magnitude and direction of the field at the unprimed coordinates (called the field coordinates) as a function of the distance from the primed coordinates (source coordinates). According to these laws, any object which can feel a force in a region of space based on an action at a distance based on a source of that field will also exert an equal and opposite force on the source. The field generated by a particular source is therefore independent of other objects which can be affected by the field but the force that is exerted between two objects depends on both objects. Action at distance theories are problematic because they predict that the response of an object to a change in the field is instantaneous. But if a source were suddenly eliminated, or vanished, then an instantaneous response would imply that the rate of propagation of information is greater than c, violating Relativity. We could deny that the object responds immediately, but this means that Newton's Third Law is not true, because in the time between the object being removed and the information being transmitted, the object is still responding, so there is a reaction but no action. Field theory is employed to replace action at a distance theories. According to a field theory, the field is what transmits information between the source and the other object. The rate at which information is transmitted is finite, and the field can store energy. Even if the source were removed, the other object would still respond, and this response would not violate Relativity or Newton's Third Law.

Field: A field has a definition in mathematical physics that must be clarified. A function in n dimensions has an input in the form of an (n-1)-tupule. There is usually only one output value, but sometimes (like for holomorphic functions) there are more. Most functions have one output and that one output is (in n dimensions) a function of n-1 variables.  But a field in n-dimensions will always have components, each of which is a function of n variables. If it is a scalar field, then there is one component, if it is a vector field, then there are n components, and if it is a kth-rank tensor, then there are nk components. So, for example a 2D scalar field would assign a scalar value to every point in the 2D region, whereas a function in 2D would take one input dimension and produce an output in the second dimension. In field equations, the dimensions are all input values. The output is a function of n variables. 

A comparison between a function in 2D (1 input axis, 1 output axis) and a field equation (specifically a vector field) with 2 input values defined at each ordered pair in the Cartesian space:

Wave: "Electromagnetic field wave" doesn't really mean anything. What we say is that there are wave-solutions to the Maxwell equations. The differential forms of the Maxwell equations are all source functions. According to them, there are two sources to an electric field (charges and changing magnetic fields), and there are two sources to a magnetic field (moving charges and changing electric fields). As a result, electric and magnetic fields are the result of each other, and are both fundamentally the result of a unified property called electromagnetism. A magnetic field is usually denoted B and an electric field E. These fields (remember, if one is present and changing, the other must be present) can propagate through space as plane waves.

 The wave solutions state that the d'lAmbertian operation over B and E fields is zero. Electromagnetic waves are plane propagations. The E and B fields are mutually perpendicular and perpendicular to the direction of propagation. The phase velocity of an electromagnetic propagation is a constant depending on the electric and magnetic constants for the medium. That's why Newton was wrong, by the way, since he predicts that velocity follows Galilean transforms. But magnetic and electric constants are invariant under coordinate transforms. The “Maxwell equations” are actually a bit of a misnomer. Two of them were formulated by Gauss, one by Ampere, and the other by Faraday, and the modern form with four equations in modern vector notation was formulated by Heaviside.

The primary contribution Maxwell made to the Maxwell equations was correcting Ampere’s Law to make it consistent with the continuity equation. But Maxwell’s primary contribution to our understanding of reality was to realize that there are wave solutions to these equations.

Resonance: Totally different thing. To understand resonance, it is necessary to understand that a wave propagates energy without the propagation of matter. For something like a water wave, we model this by saying that individual particles (which oscillate about fixed equilibrium points in phase with the other particles) are exhibiting simple harmonic motion. The nice thing about SHM is that the time period T for a system left to oscillate by itself (like a pendulum) depends only on one variable. That variable is the degree to which the medium allows the propagation of the wave. For a spring exhibiting SHM, one could change the mass and amplitude of the body oscillating and nothing would happen to T. The only way to change T would be to change k, a constant for a particular system that refers to the degree to which it is deformed by force being exerted on it. A wave whose particles oscillate with a particular speed in water would oscillate with a different speed in, say, syrup. Within any system, there is a natural frequency at which it oscillates which depends only on the constant for the medium. If you let a pendulum swing back and forth, it will tend to oscillate at that natural frequency determined only by its length (not by mass, angle of incline or amplitude).

Resonance is the principle by which the input of energy at a frequency which matches the natural frequency of the system causes the amplitude to increase in an arithmatic sequence (such as pushing a child on a swing set every time they swing back to you). In theory, in an undamped system would have an increase in amplitude up to infinity (or at least until, by the second law of thermodynamics, you ran out of useful energy). In reality, there is no such thing as an undamped system (which would violate the second law of thermodynamics). As you can see by observing the image, there is a rate function which gives the amplitude of a system without a driver where the amplitude A decays geometrically with n, the number of oscillations since t=0, meaning that:


Where c is a constant which will differ for the material in question and A0 is the initial amplitude. This is an example of first order functions. The rate at which the amplitude dies away in an uncontrolled system depends purely on the number of oscillations that have occurred.Radioactive decay and First order chemical reactions work on the same principle.

Basically, what you should understand by familiarizing yourself with this is that when someone says they can “tap into electromagnetic field  wave resonance” they are seeing who they can impress when they stick random large words together.


"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.


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ArticleQuote:18 August 2004



18 August 2004

Electromagnetics: Exxon Mobil seeks (black) gold

The world's largest oil company is seeking a distinct competitive advantage through, and is betting billions on, the use of electromagnetics to locate offshore oil fields.

The Wall Street Journal reported that since the 1970s when he'd studied the moon for NASA, Dr. Len Srnka liked the prospect of using the electromagnetic properties of earth, water, and rock to decipher underground terrain.

Exxon hired him in the 1980s to apply the method to finding oil, but for years technological and funding hurdles intervened. Finally Dr. Srnka got a chance to test his theory in a proven offshore oil field. Exxon Mobil had drilled off the coast of Angola since 1997 and knew exactly where the oil was. So, could Dr. Srnka's electromagnetic contraption show what Exxon already knew?

It could, mapping the oil with unerring precision.

Two years later, Exxon is making a multimillion-dollar bet that Dr. Srnka's technology, which he calls R3M, will work in offshore oil and natural-gas fields around the world. If Exxon is right, it could give the world's largest publicly traded oil company a competitive advantage over its rivals.

The stakes are higher than one company's profits. The global economy needs more technological home runs to slake its growing thirst for oil. Current world consumption of 80 million barrels a day may hit 120 million daily by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.

Easy-to-find, easy-to-get oil is a thing of the past, maintains one school of industry experts. When companies find big new fields, they're often in hostile environments—icy Arctic frontiers or far underwater—where getting the oil out is an exercise in human ingenuity. The problem has cast a shadow over the major oil companies.

Better technology has helped them improve their exploration odds in the past. But many companies, under pressure to deliver short-term profit growth, are spending less on research and development today than they were 10 years ago. As a result, it's been decades since the industry has hit upon the kind of breakthrough technologies—such as three-dimensional seismic surveys or horizontal drilling—that can unlock major new supplies.

Oil is a "resistive" material—a poor conductor of electricity. So when electromagnetic energy waves transmit into the earth, oil-soaked rocks show up as a resistive layer that contrasts with more conductive substances like water-soaked rocks. Schlumberger Ltd. pioneered electromagnetics as the standard for "well logging," the process of mapping the layers of oil in a newly drilled well.

There was one big problem: Electromagnetic "noise" in the atmosphere wreaked havoc on measurements, muddying the picture scientists tried to get from deep in the earth.

Dr. Srnka realized that salt water would be the perfect insulator from atmospheric noise. After two years of work, he developed a process that used sensors placed on the sea floor in very deep water. A high-power transmitter would blast electromagnetic energy waves into the sea floor, and the sensors would record the response. The data would then micro-process into an image. Oil would light up as a resistive layer.

Exxon Mobil began drilling its first wells with R3M this summer. It hopes to use the technology to reduce costly cases where it drills underwater and finds nothing. It also hopes R3M will enable it to spot oil where others might miss it, allowing it to lock up permits and perhaps negotiate better contracts with countries where the oil is located.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal


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resistivity not permittivity

The method ExxonMobile uses is based on the quasistatic approximation to Maxwell's equations; the permittivity is not a significant factor. The technique looks at contrasts in the electrical resistivity between highly-resistive oil-saturated formations, and highly-conductive saltwater-saturated formations or otherwise less resistive rocks and sediments. There are some secondary effects that are also of interest, but this is the primary indicator of the presence or absence of significant levels of petroleum and gas.