Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 10:01 AM CDT

Going to the Well

Accelerated number crunching makes oil and gas exploration more efficient
Integrated computation and visualization workflow
© Mercury Computer Systems
Integrated computation and visualization workflow using NVIDIA Tesla and Open Inventor from Mercury Computer Systems. Mercury Computer Systems
Input data
© Mercury Computer Systems
Input data: Seismic amplitude volume managed and visualized using Open Inventor.
Output data
© Mercury Computer Systems
Output data: Seismic attribute volume managed and visualized using Open Inventor.
NVIDIA's Tesla GPU server.
NVIDIA's Tesla GPU server.

By Barry Hochfelder

The Money Crunch

When you look at how oil and gas are discovered and produced, it's no wonder how much information is produced. And how much economic pressure is exerted on the companies that do the work. Oil, of course, is generated deep in the earth and migrates up through porous rocks. However, it also is trapped by non-porous rocks. The shapes of those rocks come into play during exploration and analysis. Knowledge of the earth's structure and the rocks is vital.

According to a white paper by CGGVeritas, a Paris-based international geophysical company that concentrates primarily on the global oil and gas industry, a mature field needs from 10 to 100 wells and the typical cost for drilling a well is $10 million. The wells need to be positioned below one kilometer of sea water and a few kilometers of rocks. Twenty percent of the drilled wells, CGGVeritas says, are lost.

At that cost, you can imagine that the companies want to know as much as they can before they begin drilling.

The oil and gas companies "set off explosions and record the sound waves," says David Hoff, NVIDIA's CUDA Product Manager. "They generate tons of data. They simulate what's down there to discover what's there and whether it's worth drilling. A single seismic survey can produce 10 TB of data. A single shot can produce 5,000 records of 10,000 bytes of data. They have to crunch it to find out, what's sand, what's salt? What's useful when they get down there?"

When the explosions are set off, the arrival time of the reflection off the rocks is measured. Acquisition of seismic data involves the transmission of controlled acoustic energy into the Earth, and recording the energy that is reflected back from geologic boundaries in the subsurface. Information regarding the structure and nature of the reflecting strata can be derived from the two-way travel time, and other attributes, of the returning energy. Processing these reflections produces a synthetic image of the Earth's subsurface geologic structure.

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