The presence of oil and gas has little direct effect on seismic reflections. The volume of rock is much larger than the volume of hydrocarbon. The reflections are well correlated, however, with interfaces between various rock types. In porous rocks, the hydrocarbons are free to flow. Fluids tend to rise. The shapes of rock interfaces tell us where hydrocarbons may accumulate. The discovery of oil and gas in the middle of the North Sea is a remarkable success story for the reflection seismic method. As the first exploratory wells, located by reflection seismology, were being drilled, it was impossible to predict whether they would hit oil. But if oil was to be found anywhere under the North Sea, there was great confidence that these initial drill sites were much more favorable than random locations. And as it turned out, of course, oil was soon found.
After a well has been drilled and logged, the reflection images become even more valuable, because then it is known what rock type corresponds to each echo. Seismology is usually able to provide a remarkably accurate mapping of rock types at some distance from the well. It is particularly valuable to know in which direction the rocks tilt upward, and where the strata are broken by faults. Seismology provides this information at a much lower cost than more drilling. When petroleum prospecting moves offshore, the cost of seismology goes down by an order of magnitude, while the cost of drilling goes up by an order of magnitude.
Interested readers can purchase three volumes of reflection seismic images of the earth from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (Bally ).