Now we have to 'Share' the Earth (March 1998)

PDM's Editor Neil McNaughton has spotted a newtrend in E&P Data Management, and jumps quickly on the Shared Earth Model bandwagon.

OK you know about data models. You know about objects. But that is all about to become old hat as E&P IT ploughs on with its continuous self re-invention. The buzz on everyone's lips today is the Shared Earth Model (SEM). The definition of the SEM is still "under construction" with many diverging views as to its implementation and scope. The basic idea is of a computerized model of the subsurface that works for all disciplines and at all scales of observation. How this is to be achieved is far from clear, but what are very much in evidence are the plethoric claims of business benefits that will accrue once the SEM is adopted.

SEM - old stuff?

Now those poor guys in the product development group have to translate this pie-in-the-sky stuff into rubber-meets-the-road code. The problem before them is that the multifarious models in existence at the present time (seismic, geological, reservoir, financial and the rest) are not going to be knocked into one just by thinking that this would be a neat thing to do. So they have taken a quick shifty around the wish list of their clients and come up with a few inadequacies in current modeling efforts. Thus the grand scheme of industry - wide revolution through a SEM actually boils down to the following rather prosaic enhancements

We need to be able to handle more arbitrary geometries than current tools will allow

Models should allow better handling of time variant data - particularly in the production area

Uncertainty in all measurements should be stored along with the data and 'propagated' throughout the model.

I predict that this latter requirement will probably need some toning down before it becomes widespread. Can you imagine what would happen when every 100 mmbbl prospect you present to management comes with a reserve estimate of plus 0 to minus 100 mmbbl?

The URGENT project described elsewhere in this issue came up with a very high level description of the SEM. This encapsulates trendy Business Process Reengineering (BPR) concepts into a wish-list of SEM functionality. Meanwhile, although Landmark will use the SEM to breath both BPR and revolution in the whitespace into their product line, they are essentially in the geometry camp - with their adoption of the GoCad engine. In another corner of the forest, GeoQuest have gone to a different supplier, XoX (pronounced "socks") for their geometrical extensions.

Interop death-knell?

So the battle lines are drawn up in what seems like a desperate attempt to avoid interoperability at all costs. What better way to ensure that systems will never co-operate than by deciding that the SEM is to be the focus of all future development and then for everyone to go for different kernel technologies. Of course it takes two not to tango - and there are other issues at stake here. But the behavior of both major vendors in the SEM area is yet another demonstration of competition before cooperation. Users should be aware of this and think through the implications of two or more SEM environments. It could impact your business in a fairly costly manner. Even if you intend to go for a single supplier solution, you will have problems trading data and interpretations with partners.

Wild card

A wild-card in the SEM debate has to be the growing functionality of generic 3D technology such as that announced by ESRI (see article in this issue). As GIS functionality encroaches on the world of the SEM we may be heading for yet another clash of technologies. This may lead to future data management problems as users define their data set in the GIS and then try to load the SEM. This is an old story - where do you draw the line between browsing and management, and the actual use of data? Maybe it is not too late for interested parties to make a stand here. For a little directivity from buyers as to what the SEM should be and in particular, if we are to share the SEM, then it should be shareable between software from all vendors. The "buy not build" philosophy should not be confused with a hands off attitude towards standards organization activity. Major vendors do not have interoperability at the top of their agendas. Only directivity from oils will move this one along.

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