AAPG Convention 2007—Long Beach, California

In our report from Long Beach, Chevron VP Exploration describes the five ‘discoveries’ industry needs to make in order to stave-off peak oil. BP, ExxonMobil and Shell extol the merits of their high-end ‘visionaria.’ We bring you a first hand account of the Launch of Petrel 2007—with the promise of large dataset interpretation on ‘commodity’ hardware; news from Landmark’s geomodeling effort in both GeoProbe and Geographix and new structural and sedimentological modeling tools from Midland Valley and AAPG newcomer, iGeoss.

The 5,200 or so attendees to the 2007 Conference and Exhibition of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists must have been either on the beach, or diligently attending the talks, because the cavernous exhibition area was somewhat traffic free. Those who did visit the beach will have noticed the large flare from the Wilmington field which has produced 2.65 billion bbls and 1.2 TCF gas over 75 years. It’s still producing some 75,000 bopd from 1,300 wells.

5 ‘discoveries’

Bobby Ryan, VP Exploration Chevron, gave the Division of Professional Affairs lunchtime address. The title of his talk was ‘Mapping the Route of the global energy industry’ or ‘a tale of five discoveries.’ Ryan is skeptical about peak oil but warns of access issues, demand growth and ‘challenged’ new resources. To offset these issues we need ‘discoveries’ in exploration, recovery, renewables, efficiency and talent. Ryan was music to the geologists’ ears when he announced that ‘the world is full of undiscovered resources.’ These are estimated at 1.8 trillion boe, located in Siberia, Greenland, GOM, Guinea and Middle East. A map of drilling since 1997 showed lots of dry holes and a few discoveries. Ryan also pointed out that a 1% reducing in consumption equates to 180 million bbls/year. Comparable to 1-2 large discoveries.


Jim Thomson (BP) cited NOAA visualization guru Alexander MacDonald as saying ‘if people visualize something, they tend to understand it.’ To help its multidisciplinary teams ‘understand’ the subsurface, BP began building its Highly Immersive Visualization Environment (HIVE) in 1999. Today it has 17, three of which are high-end, triple-head, front projection systems with curved screens and stereo displays. Intriguingly, this massive, centrally funded investment came from headquarters, ‘no one asked for them.’ The latest systems are being upgraded with high resolution DLP projectors. BP’s HIVE technology is under constant review.


In the early days of BP’s visualization effort, GeoProbe was the driver. Today the visionarium portfolio has grown to include CadCentre’s ReviewReality, Fledermaus VR, EarthVision’s CoViz, WalkInside and GIS. Thompson is a great believer in rear projection. This allows users to ‘walk up’ into the ‘intense zone’ of collaboration at the screen face. Other neat stuff includes SmartBoards alongside the HIVE for low resolution stuff like PowerPoint and TeraBurst technology for ‘hive to hive’ collaboration. This has had a huge impact on knowledge sharing and travel. BP is working on a GIS framework and toolkit although take-up has been slow with a lot of ‘skunk work.’ GIS systems for pipeline and asset management are under evaluation and BP is working on a paperless mapping system using TouchTable technology. HIVES are powered by SGI Onyx, but this technology is at the end of its life. SGI is no longer in this space and BP is currently testing several high end three channel 128GB machines. Large format SXRD 4K projectors represent the biggest leap in resolution yet. An 8.3 megapixel 56” holographic LCD display also ran.


Marek Czernuszenko described ExxonMobil’s use of high end visualization in geoscience and training. ExxonMobil deploys the whole enchilada of interactive stereo and collaborative, walk through 3D displays. These are used for virtual outcrop studies viewing LIDAR displays of field geology. Virtual field trips are safer and cheaper than the real thing and allow for fly through of digital terrain models integrating satellite imagery and geological maps. In the facilities arena, CAD models allow engineers to walk through unbuilt plants, avoiding design changes and errors. VR is used for operator training and immersive well planning. The only downside is that some desktop application functionality and accuracy is lost. ExxonMobil’s visualization center features in the April 30th issue of Fortune Magazine.


According to Kevin Bradford, the workstation has entrenched geologists’ and geophysicists’ isolation. It’s time they talked to each other! Shell’s strategy of leveraging ‘technology’ plays is calling for a return to a collaborative environment. It’s all about integrated subsurface evaluation—from basin modeling, through rock, fluid, reservoir and pressure prediction. Holistic, parallel workflows may leverage heat flow, gravity magnetics and sea bed logging. How do you achieve a holistic view across multi data types? Some believe volume interpretation and visualization are the silver bullets.


Shell is working to enable holistic workflows by evolving the visualization space. The proprietary systems of yesterday have been replaced with Linux-based clusters, GPU rendering and multi core, multi CPU systems. Displays now use High Definition LCDs and soon, DLP. Co-location involves bringing rooms to teams—moving away from intimidating complex structure to a ‘natural’ environment. Collaborative environments in Shell scale from desktops to visionaria and the real time operations center. Shell currently has 13 VR Centers with full immersion and stereo, 17 ‘rooms’ and 20 ‘locations’. Shell is working hard to disabuse those seismologists who still favor the ‘paper on screen’ approach and has now reached ‘critical mass’ in the seismic interpretation community. Use of volume interpretation is on the rise and there are signs that collaboration is taking hold.

Large data sets

Phil Weatherill (Shell) continued with the lower end visualization theme, describing how Shell is performing multi-scale volume interpretation on the desktop. The aim is to perform true 3D observations of petroleum systems and less ‘PowerPoint interpretation.’ This approach is enabled by high end workstations like the HP XW 9300n and Appro’s WH5548. These can be used to animate very large volumes and view whole petroleum systems, enabling ‘powerful scenario testing.’ Volume interpretation software does the ‘heavy lifting’ but integration with other applications is also key.

‘Data’ Session

Information management and ‘data’ was relegated to a poster session in an obscure corner of the exhibition. Here, Les Denham (II&T) was showing off a method to turn large numbers of well logs into pseudo seismic volumes. These could be used to map sand percentages at mega scale (for instance across the whole of the Gulf of Mexico) or to investigate reflectivity variations. de Groot-Bril’s OpendTect was used to display the results. Don Downey (Chevron) was back on the metadata crusade this time in defense of geological metadata standards. Downey’s ‘metadata workplan’ leverages XML templates to create and maintain metadata, add data QC and validation. ESA’s Tony Dupont was showing how ‘true’ 3D could be displayed in using the new functionality of ESRI’s ArcGIS 9.2. Seismic data is displayed by draping an image over the new multipatch feature. Eric Hatleberg was showing off Schlumberger’s revamped log mnemonics catalog—now available on the web.

Petrel 2007

Schlumberger’s Petrel 2007 launch was snazzy if insubstantial. Racing car analogies, guessing games and prizes clouded the message which was that you can now interpret a 200,000 sq. km., 158GB dataset on a ‘commodity’ workstation. Data access is speeded by ‘disk roaming’ and parallelized access across 4CPUs so that a variance cube calculation could be run as a background job while moving around the data set. Is a 4CPU PC with 33GB of physical memory a commodity? Maybe, but the show lacked the pizzazz of early GeoProbe demos. Too much Formula One, not enough geology.


For high-end interpretation and visualization Petrel can be attached to a Linux cluster, for the analysis of Terabyte datasets running across 256 CPUs. Schlumberger is migrating GigaViz/InsideReality tricks and techniques into Petrel, adding virtual reality and haptic interfaces. Regarding HPC and operating systems, Linux is Schlumberger’s ‘primary’ cluster solution and there is also support for Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.


As Petrel takes over larger and larger datasets, what is to become of Schlumberger’s ‘legacy’ toolset, GeoFrame? The answer is that GeoFrame’s footprint is exploration—interpretation and structural modeling—although as Petrel introduces more seismic interpretation the dividing line is a bit blurred. GeoFrame’s strength is its capacity to handle hundreds of thousands of wells, multiple projects and hundreds of 3D surveys.


Landmark is rebuilding its 3D modeling framework with the new EZModel, embedded in GeoProbe and sharing its geometry engine with GeoGraphix’ Smart Section. We saw a demo of framework modeling from well data which uses stratigraphically-conformant bed mapping. A fault networks tool does correct sealing faults and horizon modeling and is said to model thrusts. Looks like quite a credible tool for seismic-less interpretation—something the geologists seem to like doing!

This ‘n that

Frenetic activity in Western Canada’s oil snads is generating cores ‘by the truckload.’ Calgary-based Datacon’s RocksOnline solution characterizes cores and associated slabs and measurements so that they can be moved offsite to low cost storage. Petrosys now offers connectivity with IHS Petra, adding its high-end contouring and volumetrics to the geological interpretation package. Midland Valley Exploration has released ‘4D Move,’ extending geological modeling right back to basin sedimentary processes. Currently only turbidites are supported, but a carbonate deposition model is under development. Newcomer iGeoss is applying geomechanics to subsurface fracture characterization in its Poly3D application.

This article is a summary of a longer, illustrated report produced as a part of The Data Room’s Technology Watch Service. For more information please email info@oilit.com.

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