September 2018

What’s new in exploration

Who pays for new visualization?
William (Bill) Head / Contributing Editor

Anyone who worked in Mexico knew that they would not really share their acreage with the rest of the world. PEMEX is a strong political horse that still cannot be ridden. President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has announced, “yawn,” Mexico is not for sale, etc. and foreign collaborations on equity will be “suspended” for two years. I could be just as cynical about Aramco selling 5% in an IPO. Aren’t these the guys who ate most of the Seven Sisters pie?

Elsewhere, the Dorado-1 oil find could be a “game changer” for Australia said Fred Wehr of Quadrant Energy. New oil for offshore Western Australia’s Bedout basin? I remember Marathon had a well around the “corner,” 1,400 km north of Perth, the Talisman-1, part of the Rankin Trend in the Barrow-Dampier sub-basin. The T-1 had phenomenal carbonate production (about 4,800 bopd) from below the nasty Campanian Toolonga Calcilutite. We could not see anything on seismic below that reflector. Several step-out wells, on unreliable structure maps, were dry. A mystery still.

New[er] 3D visualization in exploration. Real 3D images are hologram displays for pilots. Others use pretend 3D images on a 2D screen. A few love fake 3D with those favorite glasses. There is a reason why everyday work stations are the preferred exploration 3D simulator. You can fly and wreck daily at low cost.

My first 3D exposure was the early 1970s, working software for a physical holographic display simulating flight somewhere in southeastern Asia. This technology existed in someone’s mind long before mine. The 1990s saw progress, and a great hope for commercialization. However, industry-wide visualization remains 3D on 2D projections.

At a time far, far away, Texaco built a large 25-ft-wide and 9-ft-tall, high-resolution, panoramic, 160° field-of-view screen for a visularium, at an expense I cannot get survivors to admit. Texaco required engineers, geologists, geophysicists, and even management, to attend sessions in a 3,500-ft2 facility in southwestern Houston. Folks would fly in for meetings.

Texaco trumpeted internally that this 3D version would help reduce 3D seismic project cycle time, boost production from existing fields, and find more reserves. Corporate sponsors claimed geo-scientists could look interactively at five times more data than conventional workstations. Merely walking into the room would make one a better, “expeditious decision-maker.” Few had the opportunity to try, because access to the singular, limited resource was denied for scientists and engineers, who wanted to routinely play with their multi-million-dollar 3D seismic. Later, Texaco sought to rent time, charged to in-house budgets, for use, such as walk-throughs of plants and refinery or piping design. Predictably, attempts were made to open the room for out-of-brand usage.

Commercial ventures fared no better. PGS rented time on a visularium from Peter Duncan’s firm, but then decided to build their own—smaller and imbedded in what could have been called a light table, circa 2000 AD. Data were useful to look at, but did not help in making maps or determining actual x,y,z’s. Spatial recognition was fine, but an aerial view of a life-like projected 3D in actual 2D did not yield needed details, even though the software gave coordinates. The same limitations apply today to a conventional workstation.

There are few services today, which offer immersive 3D visularium-type analysis to the industry. Independents cannot afford it. Most of the smaller companies are lucky to use or have seismic. Many drillers still only take electric logs and gamma ray for sand content. Large outfits are focused on shale. No 3D needed there, only a lonely geologist stuck in an on-site trailer to geo-steer. So, where do those great color graphics of people inside seismic come from, as seen in the trade journals? Some are just photo shop presentations. Others? When our industry realized they did not need, or could afford, a full-time visularium, they packed up kit and moved to universities. Actually, that was a good idea.

My favorite example is EIC’s Shell 3D Visualization Center (Viz Center), claiming the only four-walled, 3D CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) in Wyoming. Uh, there are only 500,000 people in my home state; it’s 1,200 mi from Houston, or a solid half-day flight from Denver. The Viz Center’s mission is to create a community of users, who drive teaching and research at the University of Wyoming, by utilizing visualization technology and collaborating multi-disciplinary interaction. According to the press, “the primary function of the EIC—to enable scientists and engineers to visualize and interact with highly complex data sets.” Heard that before?

New is exponentially more computing power with evolving software, (not AI yet) which enables immersion in spatially related data that can now “look” at fluids moving in the rock over time, not just at static formations. A projected 3D/4D matrix can be integrated from cartoons, geologic cross-sections, seismic, family movies or an integration of all. This is basically the ability to CGI the imagination of about anything. “Virtual,” then, is the product of the final graphic, combined from exiting data layers. Calculated derivatives of data layers are transforms, not creations. The machine does not create. The Shell 3D Visualization laboratory is available as a university-wide resource. Meaning, for a fee, you can join for access.

Since 3D immersive viz tech starts at a cost about 400 times a workstation, who pays? It’s the same folks who always foot the cost, the production engineers. Their cost to develop that field is 10,000 x the exploration cost per surveyed cubic meter. Engineers never pay attention to a charge that is less than a day rate of a rig. Compare offshore to onshore activity. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
William (Bill) Head
Contributing Editor
William (Bill) Head is a technologist with over 40 years of experience in U.S. and international exploration.
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