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Not just video games

12th November 2012

Sophisticated visualisation systems and computer-aided tools are now commonplace, replacing what was previously a subjective and labour intensive process in oil and gas exploration and production. But while technology has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, dwindling easy-to-reach reserves are compelling the industry to pinpoint smaller, more complex reservoirs which require the next generation in seismic technology

Not just video games
The oil and gas industry requires high-quality seismic data to accurately assess exploration prospects for commercial viability and to effectively monitor producing resevoirs

Advanced seismic technology is essential to a form a picture of the oil and gas reservoirs deep underground. By interpreting the data produced by seismic imaging surveys, geoscientists can identify the likely presence of hydrocarbon reserves and understand how to extract resources most effectively. However, as oil and gas exploration moves beyond traditional areas and into harder-to-reach reservoirs there are times when 3D seismic data collection can be unreliable. This is where 3D gaming has come into play. The advantages of using 3D seismic include increased resolution and improved interpretational tools and data displays.

3D visualisation plays an ever increasing role in the field of exploration and production. Correlating the underground data with the surface landscape, modelling the flow of oil, the analysis of the impact of different drilling techniques or generally the interpretation of seismic data by means of 3D systems have become essential to enhance productivity. By visualizing integrated data sets of various kinds in 3D, geologists, geophysicist and decision makers are provided with more comprehensive and more reliable models.

Identifying bitumen versus water in petroleum exploration for more energy-efficient heavy oil recovery; targeting hydrocarbon-bearing-shale-formations in relation to shale gas exploration and Imaging the geology underneath permafrost and volcanic cover all pose challenges to the technology and require greater degrees of accuracy.

In practice

A Texas-based research centre announced in August that it will develop a virtual 3D drill rig, as part of plans to familiarise oil and gas industry professionals with new and “greener” technologies for the sector.

Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) is preparing the release of a web-based program which allows users to browse a virtual 3D drill rig in order to get acquainted with the latest advances in environmentally friendly drilling technologies. The project has been developed in conjunction with multimedia production company Epic Software Group and the Coastal Impacts Technology Program (CITP), and funded through a grant from the US Department of Interior.

 “Our team has created a fun, interactive application to contrast conventional ways industry has drilled for oil and gas with newer and more environmentally friendly methods,” head of CITP Richard Haut said. “Visitors to the new site can open videos and 3D animations featuring a host of new tools that are reducing the impact of energy production on the environment.”

The software engine functions much in the same way as a gaming software, according to Epic Software Group president Vic Cherubini. A 3D virtual rig tour allows visitors to explore the rig at will, he added. Some of the technologies showcased in the web-based program include closed loop mud systems; small footprint rigs; advanced hydraulic fracturing systems; high efficiency water handling; and processing systems.
The Epic Software Group won the contract to provide the computer animation, web graphics, video and programming for the project. The firm has developed multimedia applications for energy companies since 1990.

Increasing exploration probability

Another company, global seismic technology firm Quantec, claims to help oil and gas companies increase exploration successes “no matter what challenges lie in [the] geological landscape”. By using acquisition and inversion techniques, such as magnetotellurics (MT), the company creates cost-effective drill programs based on precise drill targeting.

In-house geophysicists use sensitive 3D DCIP & MT (magnetotelluric) acquisition methods to gather more data (omni-directional) which is inverted into a high-resolution 3D image enabling easy drill program design and significant cost savings on unnecessary drilling.

The flagship product, Orion 3D, has already proven effective for oil and gas exploration during the following conditions:

• heavy oil: maximise oil recovery with less energy using high-resolution DCIP & MT images of the bitumen/water interface

• permafrost stops seismic from seeing investment potential in vast, cold landscapes. In remote areas, drilling a well is even more expensive than usual. But Quantec’s technologies penetrate permafrost to provide detailed resistivity images for cost-effective drill targeting

• shale Gas: Orion 3D targets the layer within shale that contains hydrocarbons encouraging better drill core results

• volcanic cover prevents seismic from giving a reliable image. Orion 3D sees through volcanic layers to show you what resources lie beneath

Orion 3D/4D differential models can identify changes in resource deposits so the lifetime value of a site is easily discovered, according to the company.

3D technology can also reduce the chances of getting ambiguous results.  Quantec’s geophysical surveys can also image areas where seismic is unable to accurately measure the density difference between resources.

Global company, Paradigm, has developed Fugro Seismic Imaging for modelling salt bodies and velocity fields. Fugro will use the SKUA technology to build detailed velocity models in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere including models with complex salt structures. SKUA is an industry-leading 3D modelling technology that unifies discrete subsurface models in a stand-alone application.

Recent advances in velocity model building and depth imaging have provided a better understanding of complex subsalt plays. Using SKUA, Fugro will be able to optimise the integrity and complexity of the salt structures in the seismic image, providing a fast and seamless workflow to update a salt model and secure more accurate and reliable velocity models for seismic imaging. The wide range of powerful yet easy-to-use velocity modelling methods offered by SKUA also enable more accurate, efficient and productive time-to-depth conversion. Fugro geophysicists will also benefit from improved productivity and faster project execution.

“With SKUA, we can build detailed velocity models more quickly in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, while providing details that were not achievable with prior technologies,” said Steve Cole, chief geophysicist for Fugro Seismic Imaging. “Accurate depth mapping below salt is one example of the benefits of SKUA and is vital for the assessment of potential oil and gas prospects.”

“We believe that the accurate modelling of salt structures should not be a barrier to challenging project timelines,” said Duane Dopkin, executive vice president for Technology at Paradigm. “SKUA’s capacity to properly handle salt-sediment interfaces, fault-sediment interfaces, and to incorporate stratigraphic velocity detail provides geophysicists a tool to generate 'sealed' velocity models for both exploration and development with substantive improvements in turnaround time.”

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