More on Geoshare Conference (August 1997)

Shortage of space in last month's PDM precluded full coverage of the PNEC Petroleum Data Integration and Management Conference held in Houston in June. In this issue we focus on that rarity - the client side case history.

But first, for our European readers, a new concept destined to warm the cockles of all you survivors of 1986. Oil companies in Houston today have warped through the restructuring dimension and are actually paying "retention bonuses" to their cherished G&G personnel. What you may ask is a retention bonus? It is a bonus, which will be paid at some time in the future - providing you are still with the company. The general feeling amongst those targeted by the retention bonus scheme was that they would rather have the money now! So it could be that these schemes actually serve as a reminder to employees of their worth in the marketplace - a far cry from the situation of recent years.


Another insight/shock to the system (depending on your sensibilities) came from Cindy Pierce describing the outsourcing program underway in Conoco, Houston. Conoco's radical approach to outsourcing involves not only outsourcing the task, but the people too. So that full time Conoco employees are taken on by the contractor (GeoQuest in this case). The rational behind this is of course that the new look E&P department no longer considers activities such as data management as sufficiently core business to merit maintaining dedicated company personnel. So the outsourcing approach is designed to facilitate personnel movement into the contractor's employ at the same time guaranteeing a certain workload for the contractor and his new employees. Additional rationale for the outsourcing approach came from the realization that the contractor was better placed that the Oil Co. to "infuse new technology" and to offer a more flexible and cost efficient data delivery service.

Tough world

Unlike similar European efforts in this field, which have been modeled on a phasing-in approach, whereby "ownership" of the personnel involved is shared between Oil Co. and contractor (at least for a while), the Conoco technique is for an instantaneous and complete move to the contractor's employ. While this may seem radical, as it undoubtedly was to the people involved, it does avoid the usual havering in the form of out-placement, counseling and so on, and must be better than being "let go". It's a tough world though when some may be getting retention bonuses while others are experiencing such upheaval. The results seen from the corporate viewpoint appear satisfactory, Conoco is entering the second year of this three-year contract with GeoQuest. While a lot of the first year was given over to the complex change management involved in this project, already benefits are accruing in the form of improved adaptability of resources, good integration of GeoQuest and Conoco processes, but as yet, significant cost reduction has not been achieved although this is probably explained by improved overall levels of service provision.


Janet Rigler (BP Houston) debunked a widely held belief concerning the way the E&P asset team does its business. BP's data management objective in the Gulf of Mexico was to present its asset teams with a shared view of the subsurface. Following a common industry pattern BP used to have in-house developers working of bespoke solutions - generally with Digital VAX hardware. All that has changed, the VAXes and the developers have gone and BP, like most others runs vendor applications on Suns and Silicon boxes. The shared earth model should enable interpreters to iterate through the reservoir characterization process, taking account of new information from reservoir modeling as new wells are drilled. Well it doesn't work like that. The limiting factor is data management. Because applications are licensed on different machines (seismics on Suns and reservoir modeling on SGIs) data most be moved around constantly. FTP and NFS have been used, but system privileges are hard to manage. Also, since no software shares the same database, audit trails become a problem in this environment. BP sees savior in the short term in the form of Landmark's Common Access Interface, and in the longer term, possibly with POSC efforts such as RESCUE.


A related issue, that of integration through visualization, has been addresses using a development from Western, the 3D Knowledge Integrator (3DKI). This was originally developed by Sierra Geophysical as the 3D Shared Canvas and has now become Landmark's Open Vision product. Jesse Black from BP gave more information on the development of this product in a joint venture between Western, Landmark and BP. The objective was to allow interpreters to access disparate datasets and the starting point was the observation that it is easier to display data than to prepare data for display. BP was very pleased with this collaborative effort and described the partnership as "win-win-win", although they lost control of the project in 1996 with the onset of IT outsourcing. Amongst the lessons learned during the project were

Data integration can be achieved without reformatting

Vendors have difficulty integrating their own products, do not expect them to integrate their competitors.

Notwithstanding the trend towards outsourcing and buy not build, there is a place for customized software and integration. This can be achieved through a judicious choice of partner.

3DKI is to be integrated into Landmark's Open Works release 4.0.

Going back to the outsourcing and IT performance issue, BP's IT budget was reduced from an annual $400 million in 1990 to $140 million today, simultaneously, they claim to be managing an order of magnitude more data. Some speakers from the floor wondered however if the industry was not throwing the baby out with the bathwater with such radical downsizing.

Anderson the Iconoclast

Roger Anderson left the Ivory Towers of the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory to blast off with both barrels at the assembled IT'ers present in the PNEC Data Integration Conference. US Government swords to plowshare programs are currently investigating the applicability of military technology used in the Hunt for Red October to that of locating un-produced oil in the reservoir, which Anderson claims, is a relatively trivial task. In an entertaining tour de force, Anderson claimed that submarine tracking generated orders of magnitude more data than even 4D seismics and that a major part of the submarine warfare technology involved data management, and in particular, real-time jettisoning of unwanted data. Introducing the concept of the Orchestration Layer, which can be described as middleware linking real time acquisition and database servers to the interpretation application level, Anderson went on to speculate as to how real time inversion, based on continuous 4D seismic monitoring could be used to control oil well production. Just about everything that is trendy is software engineering will have a role to play in this "Fifth Dimension" oilfield system.

Beanz meanz Java

JavaBeans, Smart Agents, just about everything that is, except anything that the E&P Computing business uses today. On the current industry efforts to control its IT destiny (POSC et cetera) Anderson was particularly scathing, stating that the investment of major players in the software business is orders of magnitude greater than that available to E&P IT "standardizers". A useful resource for those interested in tracking 4D seismic projects is located at there are currently over fifty projects inventoried. (PDM comment - Submarine hunting and geophysics have been closely linked since way back, old TI DFS systems used to have a "BATTLE" switch, which was to be thrown, not when the crew went ashore, but to short circuit the heat protection and allow the system to function till it melted. Likewise, the E&P software business tracks modern software developments rather closely, and is frequently one of the early adopters of new technology. This does of course mean that, collectively, the industry has witnessed many false dawns and that it will take more than saying "Java" three times for all our worries to be over!)

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