Data management in Calgary, a PDM Case History (October 1996)

Leanne MacKinnon describes how Canadian independent Talisman manages its seismic data.

It's no secret that many oil and gas exploration companies have a seismic data management problem; a costly problem that consumes resources, lengthens cycle times, endangers productivity of geophysicists and worst of all, is very expensive to repair. The exploration industry has suddenly taken notice of this problem. Software product companies are busy developing tools aimed at attacking data management, conferences and articles are elevating the profile of this relatively dry subject, and service providers are packaging "solutions" addressing an issue that has traditionally been considered a necessary evil. Seismic data management has always been a high priority for one Canadian company, Talisman Energy. Their qualified, dedicated seismic data management staff use a successful combination of sensible procedures supported by advanced technology to achieve high quality and efficient management of their corporate seismic asset.

ex-BP Canada

Talisman is an independent, Canadian based company that is actively exploring in the Western Canadian Basin, the UK North Sea and Indonesia. Formerly BP Canada, Talisman has grown through strategic acquisitions followed by successful exploration and development programs in and around core areas. They have approximately 80 exploration staff in the Canadian office and incur exploration and development capital spending in the $200 million US range yearly. In 1996 they participated in the drilling of 700 wells in Western Canada. Their seismic holdings are significant by Canadian standards; they have approximately 60,000 2D seismic lines in their database and this continues to grow each year. Linda Lindsay has over twenty years of experience in the inventory management business and has been managing Talisman's seismic library for eleven years. She applies a meticulous, yet pragmatic approach to inventory management. Lindsay recognizes that the seismic inventory function has evolved from a records management focus to an information management function over the years as the business and the tools have changed. Lindsay reflects that, "Seismic data is finally regarded as a corporate asset that must be protected".

common sense

Talisman recognised that instituting common sense procedures and ensuring that they are constantly maintained was the key to successful data management. Although exploration management is sensitive to inhibiting individual creativity of the geophysicists by imposing unnecessary administrative tasks on them, geophysicists have played a key role in enforcing the standards and procedures. They believe that many of the procedures that were established represent a tool for them to monitor data quality, control costs and track progress on various projects. The competitive environment in Calgary has enabled Talisman to alter their approach to the engagement of contractors in the seismic arena. In the past, work was sent out of house and accepted unconditionally. Now, the importance of a two way client-contractor relationship is recognized. Talisman tends to deal with fewer service providers in a given area, but spends more time and effort educating contractors on their expectations and establishing standards that must be adhered to on an ongoing basis. This has been deemed a mutually beneficial relationship; the contractors benefit because they have "preferred vendor" status and Talisman benefits from higher quality services, yet at competitive rates.


Internally, the exploration department is structured into groups or business units that represent broad geographic areas. One geophysicist in each area is completely responsible for budgeting and controlling all seismic costs incurred in the area. This responsibility automatically translates into the geophysicist having a vested interest in authorising vendors to do work and ensuring that the work is completed to their satisfaction. In 1994, Talisman was the first company in the local oil and gas industry to make the bold move of remastering their entire 80,000 plus nine track seismic tape library into an off-site facility connected to their office via a high speed network . They chose to put all their processed data online and set up appropriate security so that all geophysicists and technicians could request their own data. To ensure the quality of post-stack data in the corporate data bank on a going forward basis, Talisman has set and is enforcing a SEG-Y standard to be used by all the seismic processors they contract. The geophysical technicians in each business unit are responsible for loading all seismic data to the interpretation applications. Brad Peers, responsible for exploration systems support notes that, "The technicians feel they can have clean data loaded to the application in less time than it used to take them to complete the data request form in the old system". Although the implementation of this new technology at Talisman has not been without its troubles, it has achieved almost immediate acceptance in its geophysical user community.


Reprocessing has always been the bane of the inventory manager's existence. It is a time consuming, labour intensive, multi-step work flow process that necessitates careful tracking of all items as they travel through each phase. In Western Canada, companies are relying more and more on maximising the use of any data that has been shot in an area because it is now much more difficult to shoot new data. Talisman recognised this and designed a model where, in the near future, reprocessing will simply involve an electronic transfer of the pre-stack data, audited survey and observers reports to the processor. All pre-stack data is maintained in the same off-site facility as the post-stack, available through near-line instead of on-line access. All observer reports have been scanned and indexed, and all survey data is in the PPDM compliant seismic database. With electronic transfer of observer reports, co-ordinate data and pre-stack data to the seismic processors, turnaround on reprocessing can be reduced significantly. Handling time on the back end is eliminated because there is no need to re-file items.

sales revenue

Data sales is another area that is handled very effectively at Talisman. In Western Canada, seismic data is a revenue generating asset because it is a lifetime proprietary asset to the companies that shot the program. In 1994, exploration management set a new policy that all revenue generated from the sale of seismic data would be credited to the budget of the appropriate area geophysicist. In return, geophysicists would have to approve all Quality Inspection requests that come into Talisman. Previously, revenue from data sales was appropriated to a general corporate revenue account. The result of this change was that revenue from data sales increased tenfold in one year. According to Greg Becker, an interpretation geophysicist, "We love it - we don't mind doing the administration associated with data sales because we get direct benefit from it".

computer literacy

Becker was originally a processing geophysicist from BP in London. He came to Canada in 1988 to set up BP Canada's in-house processing system and later made the transition to interpretation geophysicist. He has been supportive of all deployment of new technology in geophysical domain, including the recent efforts to improve management of seismic data. Becker states that, "The nature of projects in Western Canada dictates that careful management of seismic data is a must. The projects tend to be comprised of 2D and 3D data of varying vintages, the plays are often subtle so that knowledge of detailed processing information is important, and the data is more difficult to handle because it is all land data". Becker notes that geophysicists as a group span the spectrum of computer literacy, from those that are interested in any new technology to those who resist the use of it. He considers himself firmly rooted in the business of geophysics, but is able to see the value of some of the emerging technologies, and is prepared to support the implementation of these technologies. Becker says, "I'm not a visionary; my focus is to make better use of the tools that are available today".


Talisman does have a technology visionary in Mo Crous. He has been at the helm of the exploration services group for years and is responsible for many of the innovative changes in seismic data management that Talisman has pioneered and implemented over time. He places a great deal of faith and trust in the people he works with, and encourages them to approach him with business improvement ideas and solutions which he is often prepared to support. Crous was able to see the seismic data management problem that was taking shape in the industry many years ago and capitalised on some of the technology opportunities that he felt would address this problem. He enlisted the help of high quality staff in Lindsay and her group and helped to establish some of the new procedures in use at Talisman today.

not dead yet!

Talisman has by no means slain the seismic data management dragon; according to Lindsay, that is a job that is never finished. They will continue to improve the service they provide to the geophysical community by implementing new tools and procedures in the same thorough, diligent way they have done for the past decade.

Leanne MacKinnon was formerly head of software development and support for Home Oil. A founding member of the Public Petroleum Data Model (PPDM), Leanne is currently Principal of Panther Services, the professional consulting arm of Panther Software.

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