AAPG 2002 - Houston

The 2002 AAPG Annual Conference and Exhibition held in Houston last month attracted 7,724 attendees - the largest gathering since 1985. Our main take-home was the increasing use of rock digitizing. This can be small scale – using calibrated photographs of cuttings, or NMR scanning of cores to full scale 3D laser sketching of rock outcrops. Such digital representations can be used to give point and click access to cuttings, or to allow for image processing and automated classification on cores. With virtual-reality you can now even bring the outcrop to your geologists’ workstation or CAVE. What’s next? Maybe a new form of ‘interactivity’ using a haptic geological hammer!

If you were to take a snapshot of the average oil company’s geological info set you would find a hodge-podge of rocks, cores, photomicrographs and imagery scattered around the organization. How do you get a handle on such a heterogeneous mass of information and make it available to the hard pressed geoscientist who no longer has the time to visit the core store or browse the library. Heck, there probably isn’t a library there anymore.

Digital rocks

Enter digital rocks - our catch-all term for a range of software products and services that move geological assets into the database or onto the workstation. The most striking example of digital rock-hounding comes from the work done by the University of Texas at Dallas. Our first illustration shows UTD researchers using laser ‘sketching’ technology to digitize a rock outcrop at a type locality in northern Spain. The second illustration shows the spooky laser image as captured - but barely does justice to the technology. UTD uses 3D photorealistic technologies, geospatial visualization, and geostatistical analysis to ‘greatly enhance 3D outcrop description and modeling.’

Into the CAVE

UTD has worked with Norsk Hydro to bring 3D imagery into the Cave. Lasers map out the geometry and photo imagery is draped over the 3D volume using software from GoCad and Inside Reality. Accurate rendition of such imagery is beyond the paper edition of Oil IT Journal - but you can get an idea of the potential from the UTD website on www.utdallas.edu/~xuxue/examples. Jerome Bellian’s team from the University of Texas at Austin has been working for ChevronTexaco on the application of LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR), a laser-based mapping tool, to collect stratigraphic information by outcrop scanning. Light-ranging data is co-rendered with laser intensity to generate 3D outcrop models with ‘near zero distortion in x, y and z space’. The intensity of the return signal helps to discriminate between different lithologies.


David Hodgetts’ team from the University of Liverpool has performed digital geological field mapping of South Africa’s Karoo turbidites using high-resolution differential GPS systems. Data collected was imported into reservoir modeling software in the field. Digital photo-grammetry allows the collection of 3D geometric data from stereo photograph pairs or strips. Software allows the integration of GPS data with the detailed sedimentological logs of the field geologist, and digital photogrammetry, to facilitate 3-D reservoir model building.

Cutting description

At the other end of the rock spectrum are tools for capturing cutting descriptions digitally. Quality Assured Lithology (QAL) from UK-based HRH Ltd. leads the well site geologist through a standard sequence for describing cuttings in a consistent manner. A click on the Munsell color chart (licensed from the USGS) captures a standardized “grayish green.” QAL also handles Wentworth class and has a library of true-size photos of grains for angularity and sorting descriptions. Another aid to the well site geologist is real-time digital cuttings analysis from Australian Sautec Pty. A calibrated light source illuminates and photographs cuttings. Cuttings and cores go into the machine, 8 minutes later, cuttings and core data can be made available off-line. These go into a structured library of images all built with the same calibrated methodology. Sautec now plans to offer grain by grain analysis.

Westport Tech

Westport Technology Center uses modified medical Computer Tomography (CT) scanners and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to see into unconsolidated GOM cores. Westport uses visualization software developed by Texaco and is planning to ‘go commercial’ with the technique. Westport’s analyses provide quick-look core inspection and monitoring of fluid displacement.

Automated core analysis

Once your rocks are digital there are a variety of interesting things you can do with them. Petro Image Llc. has developed a hardware and software solution to perform a variety of automated core analyses on digitally archived core images. Geomodeling Research Corp.’s SBED consortium, originally launched by Statoil and BP in 1986, generates ‘digital rocks’ at all scales. SBED then allows for 3D attribute generation, visualization and interpretation.


The Kansas Geological Survey’s tortuously-named Geo-Engineering Modeling through Internet INformatics (GEMINI) project combines online access to digital data with web application software to support collaborative petrophysical analysis and reservoir modeling. GEMINI components include log analysis, volumetrics and input to fluid flow simulators. The Survey is also working on a new CO2 Sequestration Atlas – the Midcontinent Interactive Digital Carbon Atlas and Relational Database (MIDCARB). MIDCARB is a digital spatial database involving a consortium of state geological surveys covering Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio. MIDCARB is built around an Internet-enabled relational database and Geographical Information System. MIDCARB shows the quantity of CO2 relating to a source supply, the security and safety of a sequestration site, the long-term effects on a reservoir and the cost of compression and transport of CO2. Future sequestration sites include oil and gas fields, coal beds, abandoned subsurface mines, unconventional oil and gas reservoirs, and deep saline aquifers.

Petroleum R&D

The US Department of Energy’s sees corporate investment in research and development as declining in the face of low oil prices and shareholder pressure. While some companies are moving back to a centrally managed R&D function, the government share of R&D funding has grown. Following the National Energy Plan announced last year, the DOE is ‘realigning’ its oil and gas R&D support program.

Upstream innovation

BP’s Wolfgang Schollnberger defended a ‘vibrant oil and gas industry’ that is focusing on technology development for the short and medium term. BP is researching in key areas such as cost reduction, increasing recovery, managing risk, understanding markets and improving HSE. One BP contribution is the ‘e-Field’ a look ‘deep into the reservoir and deep into the market.’ e-Field components include intelligent wells, ongoing reservoir monitoring and predictive modeling. BP may assign intellectual property rights (IPR) on its own ‘inventions’ to service companies – in the belief that this will accelerate their cost-effective implementation. BP claims this ‘open’ approach distinguishes it from its competitors and has ‘triggered a river of innovation flowing towards the company.’


Austin Geomodeling’s newly commercialized software provides 3D visualization and correlation of an ‘unlimited’ number of wells. Recon has been used to correlate and rebuild sequence stratigraphy over the largest oilfield in the world - the Saudi Gawar field. Recon also handles horizontal logs in 3D and provides an interactive pick database. Recon V.2.1 is the first commercial release and it too is used in ChevronTexaco’s visualization centre.

Portal moves in-house

PetroWeb has evolved from a ‘Portal’ into an in-house deployed data access and management tool. PetroWeb browses and manages data in native format irrespective of location. PetroWeb president Dave Noel told Oil IT Journal that this approach “represents a move from ‘just in case’ data à la PPDM/POSC to ‘just in time’ data delivery where and when you need the information.” PetroWeb is deployed by Unocal, Marathon and Oxy and leverages mapping technology from either Autodesk or ESRI.

Petrel 2002

Petrel 2002 the ‘biggest release ever’ will be out ‘real soon now’ and will offer full-blown seismic interpretation in both 2D and 3D. Petrel now includes dipmeter functionality developed by Oxy. A work process manager allows jobs to be re-run on demand and Landmark and GeoQuest projects can now be attached without the need for file import/export. Petrel 2002 has an Open Spirit link to OpenWorks and GeoFrame along with ‘any Oracle database.’ Petrel was previously reluctant to go head-on against the competition in the seismic interpretation arena. No more! Petrel figures that the 2002 release is competitive with software such as SMT’s Kingdom Suite - but the mid-term aim is to attack the SeisWorks/Charisma/IESX market with an offer that includes everything from seismic interpretation to production. All this in an integrated user interface that is loaded once only, allowing the interpreter to ‘go from A to Z in a single project environment’.


Petrel may be chasing a moving target as SMT is ‘putting more and more geology into EarthPack’ as president Tom Smith told Oil IT Journal. New functionality includes raster logs, faults, sections and production data along with AVI movies. SMT is also leveraging Open Spirit to integrate with third party environments and to cater for clients who are asking for ‘very, very large’ survey capability.

Massive basin model

IES has built a huge 3D model of the whole of the United Arab Emirates for ADCO Abu Dhabi. The model impresses with its graphic portrayal of oil migration and reservoir charge and has been used to risk evaluate new prospects. 3D and fluid component modeling are keys to IES modeling success. IES uses the ‘QT’ cross platform development kit from www.qt.no for portability.


Mike Halbouty, a sprightly 91 year old, gave the Heritage Session keynote on the East Texas field. East Texas was discovered by random drilling in 1930 and has since produced some 5 billion barrels with another 2 billion remaining. East Texas is characterized by its simplicity (a pinch-out of the Woodbine formation on a regional high) and size - 42 x 5 miles! Halbouty stated, “There was no valid geological reason for a discovery at Wilcox. No structure, no geomorphology, no direct indicators – in short no logical reason whatever for a positive result.” Halbouty asks if there ever be another East Texas? He believes so – in foothill provinces or against uplifts. “My firm conviction is that the next large accumulations will be found in subtle traps.”

This report is a short version of an in-depth report on the 2002 AAPG from The Data Room. For more information on The Data Room’s Technology Watch Service, please email tw@oilit.com.

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