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The amount of data that must be mined during oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) is enormous.
"These guys are one of the biggest users of 3D in the world, but they're stealth users," says Michael M. Heck, Technical Director, Visualization and Sciences Group, Mercury Computer Services (Carlsbad, Calif.). "They have a huge and interesting challenge because their data sets are extremely large. My colleagues on the medical side talk about extremely large sets of 1 gigabyte. We're talking here about a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) in a typical survey."
Why is there so much data? Think about what it takes to even find petroleum or natural gas. First, geologists find a "trap," a spot they believe may contain petroleum. There are five elements that all must be present for a prospect to contain the hydrocarbons that make up petroleum.
Visible surface features such as oil seeps, natural gas seeps, pockmarks (underwater craters caused by escaping gas) provide basic evidence of hydrocarbon generation. However, most exploration depends on highly sophisticated technology to detect and determine the extent of these deposits. Areas thought to contain hydrocarbons are initially subjected to a gravity survey or magnetic survey to detect large scale features of the sub-surface geology. Features of interest are subjected to more detailed seismic surveys which work on the principle of the time it takes for reflected sound waves to travel through matter (rock) of varying densities and using the process of depth conversion to create a profile of the substructure.
3D visualization, Heck says has been the key to increased success and efficiency in many areas of E&P. In oil and gas, for example, visualization plays a critical role in gaining insight from data. The challenge is characterized by computationally expensive algorithms along with large and diverse data sets. "To meet this challenge, data management, computation and rendering have to be used together smoothly and efficiently," he adds.