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The proliferation of innovations within and outside the industry has been dizzying. It is easier to keep up when companies have flexible options.
People in the oil and gas industry have difficult jobs – to find and develop increasingly complex oil fields and operate them for 20 or 30 years. Just as they make their plans and start to execute, reality changes.
Some of these changes can be quite dramatic: the price of oil doubles, the price of gas halves, technical limits suddenly are not so limiting. And the pace of innovation is becoming an ever-quickening drum beat.
A few cases in point over the past 10 years:
At the same time, the past 10 years have seen a complete revolution in the IT industry, moving from teraflops to petaflops in supercomputing, increasing an order of magnitude in Ethernet capability, and vastly reducing memory and storage costs.
Managing the change
So how do oil and gas companies marry the changing E&P reality with the rapid changes in importance and capability of information technology?
Ten years ago, Schlumberger bought what it thought was a nice modeling package. It was easy to use and, as a result, mainstream geoscientists started to do more and more modeling. From that notion a model-centric environment was born.
Over time, Petrel software grew from a geologic modeling application to include seismic interpretation, a pre- and post-simulation environment, and a database. Oil and gas companies wanted to add their own intellectual property to extend Petrel workflows. This meant substantially rewriting the code more than once. When that was done, the organization realized that it had built a reservoir-centric platform.
Today, the world runs on platforms. SAP, for instance, provides solutions for finance integration, resource planning, logistics, and personnel, all from one platform.
Another example is the introduction of search engines. For the first time, users had the ability to move away from querying a database to accessing the world of unstructured information: video clips, documents, and web pages. Thanks to this breakthrough, information and knowledge can now be disseminated to millions instantly. The challenge now is how to harness this innovation and manage this proliferation.
E&P platform requirements
The oil and gas industry is complex and requires highly advanced technical content. E&P requires three unique perspectives: reservoir, wellbore, and operations.
The reservoir or shared earth perspective begins with the geology. The platform representation of geology needs to include a structural model, defined by geophysics; a geomechanical model reflecting the stresses and strains the rocks have been subjected to; a petroleum systems model, indicating the presence or absence of hydrocarbons within that structure; and a dynamic model to predict how those hydrocarbons will flow over time.
The industry has been focused on integration in the earth model; however, the wellbore perspective has even greater requirements for integration. When a company drills a well, it is entering a potentially hazardous environment, possibly hundreds of kilometers offshore, under thousands of meters of water, and drilling through thousands of meters of rock and salt with very high temperatures and pressures. Drilling safely and ensuring well integrity is crucial.
Just as importantly, it is the oil and gas company's first opportunity to test its subsurface understanding – that one shot to find out if the geologic hypothesis is correct – and to determine the economics of the field. This perspective includes petrophysics and core analysis, drilling and completions design, and well integrity analysis.
The operations perspective enables companies to maximize a reservoir's economic potential. This requires an integrated view of all operational activities. Ultimately companies are concerned with flow assurance and matching surface facilities with subsurface potential. Operating the entire system to give the best possible net present value is the ultimate mission.
These three perspectives must be connected to support decision making across the E&P lifecycle.
Shale production and the E&P software platform
Shale exploitation is an example that illustrates how crucial it is to bring these perspectives together on the E&P platform. The potential of shale reservoirs is enormous. Of course, there are significant challenges in exploiting them. Production is variable, fracture effectiveness is impacted by geomechanics, and a large number of wells are required to make these plays work. Finally, surface impact must be reduced as much as possible.
Shale is extremely heterogeneous; each shale reservoir is unique. It is critical to establish kerogen types and hydrocarbon maturity to acquire the optimal acreage. Geomechanically-based analyses are fundamental to understand fracture patterns. Combining shale qualities, kerogen distribution, and fracture character enables the asset team to plan the well trajectory and optimally fracture and stimulate the rock.
To address these challenges, an integrated model-centric platform is essential. Integration of data from many domains – petrophysical, geomechanical, geophysical, and modeled responses – allows geoscientists and engineers to characterize heterogeneity in shale quality and stress regimes as well as to design wells and completions to target sweet spots, stimulating the best quality reservoir rock.
Pad placements can be designed to drill as many wells as possible from a single point and optimize the length and spacing of wells, ensuring that as much rock as possible is treated without interfering with offset wells. Real-time geosteering allows the drilling and geoscience team to work together to stay in the zone and cost-effectively stimulate only reservoir rock to optimize production.
Seeing microseismic data in the context of the 3-D earth model allows users to better understand how the reservoir is responding during stimulation to change the orientation of the next well or change the operational parameters in the current well while fracturing.
This kind of analysis is only possible in an integrated E&P software platform.
Change is inevitable
So what is the new reality? Whatever is considered standard practice today is bound to change. From shale oil to tar sands to hydrates or the Antarctic, the challenges will continue to evolve. So the reality is more change than we can imagine.
By 2022 the industry will be producing fields that have not yet been discovered, moving unconventional resources into the conventional category, and making tasks routine that are currently considered beyond technical limits. Models with billions of cells will run in minutes, and communications to any office or field in the world will be almost simultaneous, all at a fraction of today's cost.
A platform that evolves to meet these changing realities enables better E&P outcomes, providing integration, extensibility to add new science, and the ability to harness the knowledge – and disperse it to make more informed decisions.