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A World First: Trillion-Cell Simulation Run

17th April 2018

To find and produce oil and gas with greater certainty, Saudi Aramco uses a one-two punch: the world’s most advanced reservoir modeling technology, and the Middle East’s fastest supercomputer.

TeraPOWERS computer simulation

This high-impact combination enables more efficient, effective exploration in real time – providing a bigger, better picture that significantly enhances long-term management of Saudi Arabia’s precious energy assets.

In late 2016, a team of scientists and engineers led by Saudi Aramco Fellow Dr. Ali Dogru at the company’s EXPEC Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) in Dhahran broke their own world record with the industry’s first trillion-cell reservoir simulation, thanks to the latest iteration of Aramco’s cornerstone technology, the Parallel Oil Water and Gas Enhanced Reservoir Simulator, or POWERS software.

And the story is still unfolding.

Around the world, just a handful of companies use models of more than 100 million cells –underscoring TeraPOWERS’ significance for better informed decision-making on oil and gas asset management.

Three Generations of POWERS

But the POWERS story actually began in 1994: an industry-standard simulator did not exist, so Saudi Aramco set out to create one. Their first iteration of POWERS, deployed six years later, set a world record with one million cells.

The proprietary technology evolved from mega-cell capability to the billion-cell threshold a decade later with GigaPOWERS, whose seismic or near-seismic resolution highlighted reservoir connectivity and improved field management.

Now the third generation, the trillion-cell TeraPOWERS, will allow engineers to visualize the entire Saudi Arabian peninsula and what is happening between fields in one enormous model using the reservoir simulation grid. To put things in context, extending a simulation from a field the size of Saudi Aramco’s Ghawar to the entire area of Saudi Arabia is like going from the size of New Jersey – which covers 7,417 square miles – to three times the size of Texas, the second-largest U.S. state at 261,797 square miles.

That’s a long-awaited benchmark for the global petroleum industry, as well as for the scientific community.

From Years to Hours: Simulating Oil Migration from Source Rock

Running giga- or tera-cell simulation models efficiently demands supercomputing technology.

As Saudi Aramco is acquiring supercomputers for TeraPOWERS, the algorithm was tested on the Shaheen II supercomputer at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. Housed in 36 sleek black cabinets, Shaheen II delivers the massive computational power needed to model the tiniest crack or micro-fissure in a reservoir spanning hundreds of thousands of square kilometers.

One of TeraPOWERS’ biggest breakthroughs has been simulating oil migration from its source rock, an epic journey millions of years in the making.

With Shaheen II, the simulation run was completed in just 10 hours using one trillion active computational cells. By comparison, if current technology could run a trillion cells, it would take 27 years to complete a run (50 million cells take 12 hours, by a factor of 20,000).

The higher the number of cells in the reservoir models, the greater the detail provided on the reservoirs. With colossal fields like Ghawar — the largest in the world — mega-cell technology could not deliver sufficient resolution and density to simulate the entire reservoir. Scaling up to giga-cell allowed reservoir engineers to pinpoint oil zones not visible at lower resolution.

Recently, Saudi Aramco scientists were able to run a billion cell fine grid Ghawar reservoir model with over 60 years of production history, involving thousands of wells, over less than half an hour using Shaheen II. This capability allows engineers to make about 50 history match runs a day to calibrate the reservoir model for accurate forecasting, using only one half of Shaheen II.

Aiding Future Discovery & Recovery

TeraPOWERS’ focus on increasing discovery and recovery aligns with Saudi Aramco’s strategic intent to become the world’s foremost integrated energy and chemicals company.

The ability to better understand the complex physics of fluid flows through and around the reservoir, and to better delineate the connectivity among various reservoirs, improves field management. More informed decisions, ranging from the number and placement of wells to the optimal design of reservoir management strategies, mean significantly enhanced oil and gas production and maximum recovery. These benefits in turn translate to greater cost efficiency, reduced risk, improved environmental sustainability – and of course, greater energy abundance.

The wide-reaching benefits of high-performance computing in hydrocarbon reservoir simulation are of such global magnitude that Dr. Dogru has been elected to the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Engineering – the highest professional honor accorded to an engineer.

The Saudi Aramco EXPEC ARC research team, whose members hail from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Canada, Europe, India and China, devote long hours to the office and the global scientific community to meet ambitious goals.

Day to day, their activities involve team meetings regarding new mathematical formulations, discussing computational algorithms, and reviewing the latest computer architectures. Additionally, they obtain feedback from ongoing reservoir studies and simulator performance, to identify potential areas for improvement.

The next steps for TeraPOWERS include additional, graphical software tools that save man-hours in the input and editing of data.

But the team’s future focus is also dedicated to mentoring and training Saudi Aramco’s next generation of chemical, mechanical, civil and petroleum engineers; mathematicians; and computer scientists who will use their breakthrough technology to minimize exploration risks and discover new resources.

While many energy companies have reduced investment in technology and R&D, Saudi Aramco is committed to enhancing its upstream capabilities and expanding its leadership in innovative solutions that improve energy and environmental stewardship.