Society of Explorations Geophysicists

Some 8,000 attended the most buoyant SEG for years in Houston this month. The message from all was ‘we’re hiring.’ Despite Andrew Gould’s lament that poaching from each other is a ‘zero sum game,’ it a very popular one. The Leading Edge Forum debated the energy supply challenge and quickly turned into a Matt Simmons-bashing session. But whether or not oil is peaking, service sector activity is ramping up. 4D activity is to double (not sure by when!) and drilling in Saudi Arabia is to be twice its 1981 peak next year. We attended a timely session on survey data and geodesy in oil and gas and noted a plethoric hardware and management software offering in the HPC space.

SEG President Craig Beasley (Western Geco) stated that world population growth suggests that we will need 50% more energy in 2025 than now. Today, 60% of world energy is from hydrocarbons. For the next few decades ‘nobody expects alternatives to fill the gap’ so there is a heavy responsibility on the oil industry. ‘We’ve delivered in the past, but tomorrow...?’

R&D drops

R&D spend reached a high in the 1990s before dropping off in 2000. Beasley noted a particular lack of investment in seismics and a lack of R&D ‘diversity’ in both universities and in-house programs. ‘Contractors can’t afford to fund research – although this is changing as I speak (I hope)’. What can the SEG do? Beasley showed a map of his travels as president to underscore the global nature of the organization. The SEG plans to expand its ‘Forum’ meetings, the distinguished lecture program and boost international meetings. The SEG has some 23,750 members, half outside of the US. Membership trends show good renewal of young members since 2000, due to active student recruitment. Beasley believes that ‘demographics are self correcting’. A more serious problem is the poor perception of industry in the student community.


Beasley noted some paradoxical recent headlines: ‘OPEC is to increase production,’ even though OPEC is ‘capped out’ right now. ‘Environmentalists protest wind farm in Scotland’. And the reports that oil company activity is ‘constrained by lack of people,’ while the industry shed 4% of its staff last year. Beasley’s take on ‘peak oil’ is that by 2006-7 horizon, projects coming on stream should replace depletion, pushing the ‘peak’ back to 2010. The key question is the development of an alternative energy source. Beasley doubts that NYMEX free market is enough to bring about necessary change.

TLE Forum

This year’s The Leading Edge Forum, ‘sponsored by’ Intel, Microsoft and BP, debated the energy supply challenge, asking if it was ‘real or imagined?’ The debate was with an absent Matt Simmons, whose book, ‘Twighligh in the Desert’ appeared earlier this year. Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould confirmed a ‘crunch’ for oil and gas but anticipated that shale gas and other non conventional resources ‘will contribute to replacing conventional reserves’. Gould noted that ‘most prospective new areas present high political and technical risk.’ Oil company ‘excess’ profits are due to an inability to re-invest. On the shortage of personnel, graduate supply/demand ‘depends where you look’. There is an excess in India, China and the Far East, Venezuela and Mexico. But in the short term, ‘We need a massive cooperation effort in the industry to bring on the technology to fill the gap’. This includes the digital enablement of oilfield operations. 4D seismics, real time operations (drilling and production) and intelligent completions. Production optimization is ‘very people intensive’ but hiring from each other is a ‘zero sum game.’ Gould forecast 4D seismics activity will ‘double in the next few years’. But admitted a pet hate, customers who split acquisition and processing contracts. 4D seismics has a ‘very short shelf life.’ In the Q&A Gould opined that, ‘Operators don’t realize how technically competent the service sector has gotten.’ This met with enthusiastic applause such that Gould backtracked, ‘But I’m not starting a revolution here!’


Tim Cejka was harder on Matt Simmons. ExxonMobil forecasts global energy demand to rise by over 50% by 2030 and oil and gas to play an increasing role. Exxon considers its $600 million per year investment in proprietary R&D essential. In geophysics this targets seismic imaging, and electromagnetics for remote detection. While service company R&D spend is up to $1.7 billion, this doesn’t let companies differentiate, ‘Off the shelf technology will not suffice.’ Geophysical advances have been ‘dramatic.’ ExxonMobil is working on proprietary anisotropic wave equation migration to enhance sub salt imagery. Proprietary plate tectonic software is used to model paleo heat flow conditions. An internal SHAPES project compares reservoir architectures with natural examples from geopmorphology and sedimentology. A global climate and energy project at Stanford represents a $100 million investment over 10 years, shared with Schlumberger, GE & Toyota. Cejka notes a spectacular fall in finding costs—down from $2 in 1994 to 50c today. In a Simmons-esque lapse, Cejka noted that there are more rigs drilling for gas in the US than ever, yet production still declines. The rig market is tightening and the geophysical market is ‘stretched’. Parts of the world are closed to the majors and there are threats to contract sanctity, and competition that is ‘not necessarily economically driven’ from national oil companies.


Landmark was offering a sneak peek at Geoprobe’s Fault Net Manager which niftily ‘snaps’ horizons to termination objects (faults) to create a sealed fault network. Geoprobe’s Well Seismic Fusion plug-in lets you move around the top of the reservoir, viewing gathers in a separate window. Results are captured to a ‘spreadsheet’ of geobodies which can be filtered and sorted by attribute before viewing in 3D for well planning etc. Landmark is to bring all its Open Works seismic data into Oracle (except trace files and 3D horizons!). SeisWorks files will disappear and CRS management will be ‘transparent’ across projects.


Similar functionality was on display from Genetek’s Earthworks which displays gathers in a pop-up window overlaying the seismic display. This window into the prestack dataset can be dragged around to look for similar anomalies. Autopick can be done on stack or on gather, with best fit of moveout in AVO space. Earthworks runs on DEC/HP VMS—making it something of an anachronism to many. But Genetek president Mark Sun isn’t going to bow to peer pressure. ‘Why let the IT department dictate your infrastructure? VMS is the best operating system there is and it does a great job for us and our users.’


Schlumberger unveiled more of its data management strategy around Petrel and its Seabed ‘open data model.’ End users will be able to extend OpenSpirit data access to access foreign data sources. Multi user enhancements include secondary project workflows and reference projects. OpenSpirit write back to OpenWorks and GeoFrame is extended to large data volumes. Seismic data sharing keeps bulk data in one place on disk. A new ‘Petrel Assist’ initiative will let Petrel run everything against the database. This can be ‘Oracle, Seabed, or any ADO/.NET technology.’

Geodesy Session

Jimmy Cain (Cain and Barnes) warned users of survey data of the pitfalls. There are ‘13 different feet and 2 different meters in use’ throughout the world. Latitude, longitude and direction are ‘not unique’ (google ‘geo4lay.pdf’). Google Earth has ‘variable quality of geo-referencing.’ High resolution imagery is great but ‘where is it?’ EnSoCo’s Jo Connor enumerated more geodetic do’s and don’ts. Mismatching NAD 27 and NAD 83 gives a 400 ft (which foot?) error for Alaska. Connor asked is your software geodetically aware? Even with good 3D loading information, mistakes interpreting 3D indices are ‘possible and frequent’.

Vizualization Theatre

Ebb Pye’s Visualization Theatre was the venue for a presentation of Shell’s 123DI interpretation and visualization system running on Linux. 123DI has been extended to display CAD/CAM type models of production facilities—here an FPSO. The idea is to extend the prototype VR display to use on smart fields.


The SEG continues to be a showcase for high performance computing—for number crunching, visualization and storage. Sun and ModViz are working on sharing graphics computation across multiple machines. HP is offering ‘PolyServe’ technology used to run large jobs across multiple OSs and hardware. Everyone is offering ‘computing of demand’ (see page 12 of this issue). But, so far, only FineTooth is actually offering computing on GPUs (see below) although just about everyone is trialing this technology.


IBM was showing its ‘Wireless Oilfield’ connecting operations to corporate systems. ‘Intrinsically safe’ field terminals from IS-Mobile check RFID tags and support real time dialog with operators. We had a sense of déjà vu, checking back to last year’s SEG we noted a similar demo. But while last year the infrastructure was ‘ICE 2 and web services’ this time it’s ‘IBM’s MQ Series’. Whatever. Halliburton is offering a Geographix hardware and software bundle for $799 per month. SGI was showing a spectacular, 9 megapixel Sony 4000 Cinema Projector. This uses the new Digital Cinema Standard and ‘Media Fusion’ of multi mode visual streams from supercomputer, workstations or Windows.

Aramco statistics

Finally, some numbers we spotted on the Saudi Aramco booth. At the Dhahran EXPEC Technical Computing Center Aramco has 98 SGI CPUs, 5980 PCs, 192 IBM, 3.6 TB tape, 1.2 PB disk and 10 TFLOPS compute. Elsewhere on the booth, Aramco’s drilling department forecasts a dramatic activity hike. In 2004, 57 rigs were in operation, this year 95 are planned and in 2006, 115. The historical record is 55 in 1981.

This article is taken from a longer illustrated report in The Data Room’s Technology Watch series. More from

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