Society of Exploration Geophysicists, San Antonio 2007

SEG Forum reveals promising future for geophysics in the search for unconventional reserves. Exxon investigates repetitive strain injury (RSI)—the bane of the seismic interpreter. NVIDIA’s Quadro/Tesla boxes are everywhere. TerraSpark’s Computer Aided Seismic Interpretation and ‘stratal slice’ reveal sedimentology. High Performance Computing from BP and Paradigm. The SEG Advanced Modeling Project gets funding. Dynamic Graphics goes real time with CoViz 2.0. Gopher burrows tracked in GeoProbe!

The topic of the SEG’s Forum was ‘geophysics and unconventional reserves.’ Sverre Strandenes (PGS) noted applications of multi transient EM in reserve mapping of tar sands and in monitoring steam assisted gravity drainage. Permanent monitoring with seabed fiber seismics has applications in all reservoir monitoring and CO2 sequestration. PGS is working to integrate EM acquisition with seabed seismics. Jean-Marie Masset (Total) offered a wide range of definitions for ‘unconventional’ including the usual heavy oil and tight gas, but also ‘sour gas, high pressure/temperature reservoirs and deep water.’

Seismic movies

In the latter category, Total’s Block 17 in Angola shows geophysics ‘at its best,’ allowing for fluid content changes to be tracked with 4D time lapse seismics. Again, seismics is used to monitor steam chamber evolution with live seismic ‘movies.’ Total’s experience with the 5200m, 1100 bar, Elgin Franklin North Sea development includes wide azimuth seismic acquisition, innovative processing and high performance computing to investigate what happens burial depths of around 10,000m.


Chesapeake, according to Larry Lunardi, is a player in all the unconventional exploration plays in the US. These include granite wash, fractured reservoirs and shale gas plays. Chesapeake uses 3D seismic for all of these plays and is now the prime 3D onshore seismic data acquirer in US. One spectacular application has been an extensive 3D seismic survey targeting the Barnett Shale in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Seismics was acquired on the DFW airport taxiway system (by Dawson). Barnett Shale exploration is complex with karsts and faults obstructing the search for the ideal ‘fracturable’ sweet spot. Drilling is equally high tech with five rigs currently drilling horizontal wells under the airport. In all some 250-300 wells will be drilled. Chesapeake has invested some $160 million on 3D seismic.

Gas hydrates

Ray Boswell (US Department of Energy) traced the interest in gas hydrates back to 1984 when the Glomar Challenger recovered a 1 meter core offshore Guatamala. Gas hydrates may contain half of all the world’s captured organic carbon. Arctic sandstones are estimated to hold 100s of kTCF reserves but the numbers for low permeability marine reservoirs are much higher.

Bottom simulating

Here, geophysics has given some paradoxical results. Initially it was believed that the ‘bottom simulating reflection’ (BSR) observable on many deepwater seismic lines was a direct gas hydrate indicator. It turns out that this is not the case. In fact the science today is confusing and some doubt has been cast on the existence of significant reserves. A federal program on rock physics modeling, seismic reprocessing and 4C OBS acquisition is being conducted by the DoE’s National Energy Technology Lab in the Gulf of Mexico.

Interpreters’ injuries

A presentation by ExxonMobil’s Doug Bishea investigated the causes and possible remedies for repeat strain injury (RSI) experienced by users of interpretation systems. RSI is a growing, serious problem ‘we have people in pain.’ There is no real correlation with age, even young people get it. To address the problem Exxon is using HSE and engineering controls to reduce ‘safety risk’. These include removing or enclosing the hazard.

Fitness Forum

Here automation, scripting and autotracking minimize the amount of input required. A joint collaboration with Schlumberger has resulted in an ‘ergonomic fitness forum’ to identify potentially harmful software. Reducing time spent at the workstation has proved successful but this does imply a degree of cooperation. There is not much point if an interpreter is going home to a six hour stint of ‘World of Warcraft!’

NVIDIA ubiquitous

Whether this represents reality or just some very successful marketing is unclear but NVIDIA’s Quadro and Tesla boxes were everywhere at the show. The Quadro Plex boxes offer hardware accelerated graphics. The Tesla D870is NVIDIA’s GPU-based computing engine in a box – a.k.a. the deskside supercomputer, powered by two 128-processor core GPUs.


According to TerraSpark GeoSciences’ CEO Geoff Dorn ‘We don’t compete with VoxelGeo or GeoProbe, we just make them better.’ TerraSpark’s Stratal Slice technology is very similar to Paradigm’s newly announced ‘Skua’ (see page 3). Stratal Slice transforms acquired seismic volumes into a ‘depositional environment’ volume in which palinspast reconstruction is used to visualize channels and sedimentology that are invisible on the original times slices. Automated fault extraction, ‘surface wrapping’ and geobody extraction combine in what TerraSpark calls Computer Aided Seismic Interpretation—CASI. TerraSpark has teamed with Transform Software and has also signed with JOA to develop a Jewel Suite plug-in.


IBM has decided that the SEG is its bug show—and is not afraid of straying from the geophysical path as it were. Thus, alongside the Blue Genes and cluster racks for seismic processors, were a wide range of solutions for more downstream problems. IBM’s Monitor Runtime is a browser-based interface that ‘sucks’ a data model from ISO 15926-based engineering data sources and maps it across to real time data from the Historian. The technology is used in an event early warning system that uses control room alarm techniques to provide sand alert. A ‘semantic engine’ from IBM Research captures knowledge and best practices.


Speaking at a Panasas-sponsored breakfast event, Keith Gray, BP’s High Performance Computing (HPC) team leader described how BP is using R&D to create new ideas and solve problems like deepwater imaging. Innovative techniques like wide azimuth towed streamer acquisition and seismic nodes on the seabed were ‘proved’ in the computer before field tests. These have now been industrialized with, for example, PGS’ Crystal wide azimuth towed streamer (WATS) survey covering 400 OCS blocks and resulting in 200 terabytes of field data.


BP’s own HPC setup now boasts Intel quad core Xeons totaling 15,000 cpus and a 125 terflop bandwidth. Storage is currently 500 going to 750 terabytes of Panasas disk and 2 petabytes of SGI CXFX ‘and we still can’t keep up’. BP has been testing Cluster File System’s Lustre file systems—which ‘looks promising.’ Looking to the future there is a pressing need to build bigger file systems that assure data integrity. ‘We can’t afford to lose data that took weeks to compute.’


Phil Neri (Paradigm) noted that computer processor speed greatly exceeds memory access and seek times are increasing in the new huge memory systems. Multiple levels of cache (on die, in memory, disk, network and in storage) complicate optimization. A related issue is the fact that commercial clusters are designed for transactions not HPC. HPC is a second class citizen! Seismic processing applications like wide azimuth and tomography need to ‘see’ all data and the distributed computing paradigm is not so good in this context. Neri sees a breakthrough in Panasas’ parallel storage and multiple Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. A 20 fold improvement was observed on one migration algorithm. This was achieved by de-tweaking prior ‘optimizations’ and running the application on a virtual machine with parallel storage.

Dynamic Graphics

Dynamic Graphics (DG) has livened up its CoViz product, adding a 4D time lapse display function. This was developed for Occidental’s reservoir surveillance and can show, for instance, producers and injectors as a movie with changing well status—alongside of simulator results. DG reports 160 CoViz users within BP. The tool offers an impressive ‘big picture’ view for a ‘high level’ understanding.

8 megapixel

Landmark was showing an equally impressive huge 8 megapixel screen. For under $100,000 and with no wiring companies can deploy an ‘instant team room.’ The screen is driven by the NVIDIA Quadro Plex as above.


Petris has developed Kelman’s new seismic data management system. The package leverages Petris WindsEnterprise technology to support Kelman’s clients’ ordering and data delivery. The interface offers digital terrain and geology backdrops and a classic ESRI interface for map control and search. Data can be ordered and loaded into a workstation project.

Advanced Modeling

The SEG has created the SEG Advanced Modeling project (SEAM) Corporation to develop synthetic data sets for algorithm testing. Members have currently chipped in over $1 million to the SEAM fund. Members include PGS, BHP Billiton, Total, CGG, Shell, Halliburton, Exxon and WesternGeco. After an initial period, results of the modeling will be made available to the SEG membership at a nominal cost.


Finally, our ‘cutest presentation’ award goes to the student from Brigham Young University on the Landmark booth who presented a truly unusual application of GeoProbe’s 3D visualization capability. GeoProbe was used to investigate a ground penetrating radar data set showing gopher burrows. These, intriguingly, corkscrew their way down below ground. Burrows display the odd mouse-made side tracks!


Oh and the big news from I/O? It’s now called ‘ION’!

This report is a short version of an illustrated Technology Watch report from the SEG produced by The Data Room. You can read the full text of our report from the 2006 SEG on

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