May 2015

Web-based data management tool streamlines E&P analysis

Organizations in academia and industry support the development of new geological information tools to help geoscientists sift through huge quantities of data, and incorporate that data seamlessly into their workflow, leading to improved decision making and improving the odds of exploration success.
Phoebe McMellon / Geofacets Neal Marriott / Geological Society of London Jonathan Craig / Eni
A 3D project window of the exploration area displays maps, cross-sections, and seismic profiles that have been imported from the Geofacets tool.
A 3D project window of the exploration area displays maps, cross-sections, and seismic profiles that have been imported from the Geofacets tool.

For the oil and gas industry, research needs are dissimilar across different phases along the exploration value chain. The early stages of exploration typically require gathering a large amount of disparate information and data from a variety of sources, a process that often takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to assemble in a common format, even before beginning the interpretive process of identifying the potential for a commercially viable and producing hydrocarbon system.

In the early stages, the focus is on understanding the regional geology, tectonic evolution and characterization of subsurface depositional environment and structural features, to validate the petroleum system and identify the best prospects via seismic data and exploratory drilling. In later stages, much of the research focuses on engineering and technological research to identify the most efficient, safest and profitable way to extract hydrocarbons from the reservoir.

Prior to the arrival of the internet, research from generation to generation experienced little change, with the exception of vast advances in geophysical technological tools and methods to help “see” into the subsurface. However, even with new geophysical techniques used, the fundamental research approach remained the same. With the arrival of the internet, an embarrassment of riches has occurred, with new management information tools and exponentially more information. Oil companies are starting to comprehend how to manage all this information and to significantly invest in data management, to not only make their companies more efficient and productive, but to reduce risk as well.


Given data management challenges, geological research tools are becoming popular. Geofacets is a web-based research tool from Elsevier that holds over 400,000 searchable and downloadable maps, collated from Elsevier’s own scientific journals and those of publishing partners, including Geological Society of London, Geological Society of America, Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM), Society of Economic Geologists, Wiley, and American Geophysical Union (available in September 2015).

Various paths in which geoscientists can easily integrate data and maps sourced from scientific articles directly into their workflow by using Geofacets and the Geofacets Connector.
Fig. 1. Various paths in which geoscientists can easily integrate data and maps sourced from scientific articles directly into their workflow by using Geofacets and the Geofacets Connector.

Such tools combine geologic-search features specific to discovering data-rich content within scientific publications. Further, content such as georeferenced maps can be downloaded and integrated into the geoscientists’ own analytical exploration software, e.g., Google Earth, ArcGIS, and Schlumberger’s Studio and Petrel software, traditionally a time-consuming and cumbersome task, Fig. 1.

The features included in this software aid decision-making, mitigate risk and increase productivity for geoscientists in natural resource E&P. For instance, the maps are georeferenced, and the interface is interactive, enabling users to draw a polygon around a particular geographic area, making it quick and easy for geoscientists to extract information related to the specific geographic locations of interest. For example, this feature allows a user, who might be scouting opportunities in the shallow lease blocks up for bid in Mexico, to identify critical geological information about the subsurface geology and potential plays in that specific area, without having to sort through a lot of irrelevant data. Most of Geofacets’ maps—more than 300,000—are georeferenced, which means that they can be seamlessly downloaded and imported into a variety of GIS software. By automating the tedious processes of searching and georeferencing, this tool frees geoscientists to concentrate their time on important analysis and decision-making.

Presenting this level of information to geoscientists also helps address one of the oil and gas industry’s long held perceptions: the generally dismissive attitude that a significant proportion of geoscientists have had toward academic and scientific journal publications. Indeed, it can be easy to take such research and content’s value for granted, despite the massive advances that the academic community has made in geological research, which has had significant impact on the oil and gas industry, such as plate tectonics. Because of this perception, geological societies, such as The Geological Society of London (GSL), have made it part of their mission to overcome the industry’s resistance to published literature.

The value of a tool like Geofacets lies in its up-to-date, extensive and reputable content database. Elsevier has been a respected publisher of geoscientific journals for over 40 years, while the GSL, for instance, has accumulated an extensive offering of peer-reviewed journals, books and maps since it was established in 1807 and its first map being published in 1812. These agreements with many of the industry’s leading sources of geological data have made their information more discoverable through one tool. According to Jonathan Craig, vice president and Exploration Strategy advisor for Eni, “Research plays a fundamental part in a successful exploration strategy.”

Substantial original work has been done on the origin of petroleum, the nature and distribution of hydrocarbon source rocks, fundamental research on reservoir quality, and changes in quality with increasing depth. In fact, many of those principles come from research and continue to be worked on in leading-edge scientific projects. “A case-in-point is the ongoing Deep Sea Drilling project,” observes Craig. This is an integrated ocean drilling project—operating since the 1960s—that continues to run with a variety of drillships, drilling shallow holes for scientific analysis.

“Deepwater drilling research has been essential in preparing geoscientists in comprehending the deepwater geology in frontier regions, such as Brazil and Newfoundland,” continues Craig. “The value of geological information tools is that they turn raw data quickly into something that is commercially useful for the ever-busy geoscientist.”


One particular challenge, where research tools, such as Geofacets, demonstrate their worth, is the skills gap. Jonathan Craig points out the benefits that technology can bring in overcoming skills shortages. He feels the chief advantage that any company can gain, in terms of exploration leadership, is not so much from technology, but from access to knowledge and the expertise of their staff. “One way to overcome the current skills shortage we are facing in the industry is to provide new tools that improve the existing productivity of geoscientists.”

Regardless of whether a geoscientist is an experienced veteran or a new recruit, having the right information at the right time is vital. Yet much of the relevant information is difficult to find and access. Even when found, the information has to be sorted and—above all—kept up-to-date. With increased access to a wider range of data, the geoscientist needs help in drawing together, sorting and delivering meaningful results. This process can no longer be held in the mind of one individual, and technological intervention is required for the sorting and filtering of such vast quantities of information. Using geological research tools means that you can find the right maps and georeferenced data that meet your search requirements for oil and gas exploration, and make more-informed exploration decisions and risk assessments, all while increasing the productivity of E&P geoscientists. Combined, these features increase confidence in go-or-no-go decisions, and thus, lead to more successful outcomes.


Beyond the overarching challenges facing the industry, Geofacets and other research tools have a crucial role to play for geoscientists, who need to support expansion into new regions. In 2015, a major area of interest for many is Mexico. The government’s plan is to hold a series of auctions allowing foreign firms to bid for the rights to develop 79% of Mexico’s reserve fields. Mexico will actually keep ownership of these resources, but the companies with winning bids will be given a profit sharing deal, a production sharing deal or a license. It is anticipated that the preliminary auction, slated for July, will generate approximately $14 billion in investment. Round One alone will provide bidders with the chance to claim an estimated 3.8 Bbbl of oil reserves, as well as some 14.6 Bbbl of prospective reserves at an estimated yearly investment of $8.5 billion over the course of four years. The investment opportunities here are as diverse as the Mexican regions on offer include producing tracts and unexplored areas in shallow and deep water—covering both conventional resources and unconventional fields boasting high prospective potential.

For both the companies looking to explore these new areas, and the Mexican government looking to profit from them, a lack of critical geological information poses a serious challenge. The Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH), tasked with overseeing the first round of bidding, has created data rooms, such that oil companies are able to look over seismic and other available data before choosing to put in a bid. The offer for this initial phase is 14 shallow-water blocks, and 30 oil and gas firms have demonstrated their interest—seven of them paid fees to get in on the action (e.g., Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BG Group, Ecopetrol).

Thanks to the data rooms, the bidders for this round, at least, will have some information to base their competitive bids. Unfortunately that may not be the case for the offers to come. In either scenario, reliable geological data are needed for companies to target the best license blocks; data are also needed to help them identify the blocks that show the most potential for an economically viable petroleum system, but with the lowest risk for exploration and production, and even to validate the data provided in the data rooms. A great deal of that information cannot be easily located, accessed or understood in its present form. But, even with a glaring lack of vital data, companies may not be able to resist the allure of a prospective 115 Bboe—in fact, this could end up being one of the priciest bidding rounds in history.

To win the information race and gain a competitive advantage during bidding, companies will have to turn to an array of information sources and tools. Resource tools, such as Geofacets, can access vital information in real time, and provide automated integration capabilities that allow geoscientists to save time and concentrate their efforts on analysis. Searches based on keywords and location make it easy to rapidly find maps and other data, with filters making it possible to narrow the focus of a search to very specific areas of interest.


Frontier exploration teams and new ventures geoscientists require easy access to many different types of maps and data—such as structural, geologic, facies, isopach and GDE—along with seismic profiles, cross-sections, well logs, etc. These sources, along with scientific articles, enable geoscientists to rapidly perform a petroleum system evaluation, which helps them determine a reservoir’s potential within one platform.

As an example, imagine that a new ventures team is considering whether or not to bid for acreage or form a partnership with another company in a new basin—and they have just one or two weeks to make that “go” or “no-go” decision. With 2D seismic lines ranging from $8K to $30K/km, and just one well’s data costing at least $5K, these decisions can be expensive. Geofacets provides a good starting point for gathering the information needed to obtain a sound understanding of the subsurface geology. This allows for a swift assessment of the possible existence of a hydrocarbon system, consequently identifying which areas are higher- or lower-risk.

In collaboration with Schlumberger, we worked to build a petroleum systems model of Africa’s Orange basin (situated off the coast of Namibia and South Africa), which made it possible for us to locate a number of structural and regional geologic maps, plus several seismic profiles found within the scientific literature. Those maps were then imported into Petrel and geo-referenced, allowing for the identification of an extensive reservoir and possible seal in the area of interest. By loading even more maps and data from scientific articles using the Geofacets Connector, the presence of source rock and trap was detected and confirmed—and that was accomplished without expenditures on the acquisition of seismic or well data. Naturally, a screening like this can also be valuable for targeting high-potential/low-risk areas, in which case, it is certainly worth investing in the needed seismic and well data.


Geoscientists face significant challenges, from moving into new frontiers, to skills shortages, to collecting data to provide accurate and timely geological assessments. Whether trying to support internal knowledge transfer, tracking down data that detail the Upper Pliocene and Quaternary deposits in a relatively unknown basin or simply trying to find content related to a known geological basin, geoscientists need sophisticated, trustworthy data at their fingertips. Organizations in academia and industry are coordinating and supporting the development of new geological information tools to help geoscientists ease the generational gap, sift through huge quantities of data and incorporate the data seamlessly into their workflow, leading to improved decision-making and improving the odds of exploration success. wo-box_blue.gif  

About the Authors
Phoebe McMellon
Phoebe McMellon is director of Product Management at Elsevier Geofacets. Ms. McMellon is a qualified geologist with over 15 years’ experience in private, public and non-profit sectors. In previous roles, she has worked as a hydrogeologist and was also an elected member of the New Zealand Hydrological Society.
Neal Marriott
Geological Society of London
Neal Marriott graduated with a degree in geology before joining the oil industry as an exploration geologist. Since 1991, he has worked for a number of commercial and not-for-profit publishers, and is director of Publishing Library and Information Services for the Geological Society of London.
Jonathan Craig
Jonathan Craig has worked as a geoscientist in the oil and gas industry since 1980. Mr. Craig served as the chair of the Geological Society Petroleum Group (2011-2013) and is the president of the European region of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). In 2008, he was awarded an honorary professorship as visiting professor of petroleum geology at University College London.
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