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ArcGIS for subsurface data?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Could geographical information systems such as ESRI's ArcGIS prove a good way for a company to interpret, visualise and collaborate on subsurface data in 3D?

Just about every oil company uses Geographical Information Systems (GIS), typically the ArcGIS software from ESRI, to manage their geographical information in 2D maps, such as which areas they have seismic data for, and where their surface infrastructure is.

And every oil company uses subsurface data management software, such as Schlumberger's Petrel, IHS's Kingdom suite or Landmark's software, to manage their subsurface data around the company and let people collaborate on it.

For the past few years, it has been possible to use ArcGIS for 3D models, as well as 2D maps - which means that you could also use ArcGIS for your seismic interpretation and as a subsurface collaboration tool.

Does this mean that ArcGIS provides some healthy competition to the subsurface software packages?

Morten Tønnesen, managing director of Oslo company Geocap, a company which supplies a plug-in to ArcGIS for interpretation and managing subsurface, seafloor and subsea data, believes that it can.

A big advantage of ArcGIS over packages such as Petrel is price and accessibility, he said, speaking at the Digital Energy Journal Stavanger conference on May 6, 'doing more with subsurface data'.

If your company wants to have 1,000 people accessing subsurface data, you probably won't be able to afford 1,000 Petrel licenses, but you can probably afford 1,000 user licenses to ArcGIS, he said.

And if your company already have desktop or enterprise licenses for ArcGIS, you won't need an additional license to use it for 3D work, he said.

GIS information is easily accessible over the web in ArcGIS, including with tablet computers, he said, and in a variety of IT configurations.

You gain access to the massive ecosystem around ArcGIS. It has over a million users around the world and 2,000 companies writing add-ons, including Geocap.

If you still want to do your subsurface modelling using the classic subsurface packages (made by companies such as Schlumberger, Landmark, LMKR, Roxar, and IHS) you might find it easier to use ArcGIS for sharing the data, he said.

Mr Tønnesen has a strong background in both geology and information technology. He spent 11 years working in Norwegian oil company Norsk Hydro from 1988 to 2000, including as both geologist team leader and subsurface IT manager, and from 2000 to 2011 he was with subsurface software company Roxar, ending as VP operations for Asia Pacific, Australasia and China. He joined Geocap as managing director in 2012.

Mr Tønnesen's company Geocap provides a layer which runs over ArcGIS software to manage and display subsurface data, he said. Geocap AS is a fully owned company by Geodata AS, the exclusive partner of ESRI for Norway.

Geocap's software can be used for seismic interpretation, geological modelling, seabed processing and calculation of maritime zones in accordance with UNCLOS.

About Esri, Geocap and Geodata, see , and

What you can do

Imagine an oil company preparing for a license round, competing with many other companies for access to many different blocks, with enormous amounts of information already available. "How are they going to cope with taking all of his information, absorbing it, understanding it and prioritising," he said.

By bringing all the available subsurface data into ArcGIS "I can basically have all the seismic data sets I can possibly have from my company at my fingertips," he said.

The GIS can take data from various data sources such as government data, the corporate well data and any seismic data from geoscience software without duplication of large seismic SEGY datasets.

Having all subsurface data together in the same database has been a long held dream of the oil and gas industry.

Discussions were already going on about a 'shared earth model', a common database for all subsurface data, in Norsk Hydro E&P back in 1994, he said.

Oil and gas companies want to present a wide range of subsurface information coherently, link it together, show it on maps, and use it with mobile devices, he said.

You can view seismic data as a 'time slice' (all the data with a certain arrival time, which suggests it has been reflected from the same reflector).

All of the seismic data is integrated, so you can draw a line from Norway to the UK going through many different oil fields and see all the 2D and 3D seismic, wells, interpretations and GIS data together.

GIS systems can easily provide background information. "I can click on any object and get the full information about the operator, and get the documentation."

You can also add well construction data into the system, exported from drilling or design software.

For offshore wells, you might need to have knowledge about the stability and contours of the seabed in the area where you are planning to drill. Some areas of seabed have trenches 50m deep, which make it impossible to install any subsea equipment.

For onshore wells, typically associated with shale gas fields, there are many other factors you need to consider when deciding where to place your wells, such as how far away the nearest houses are, restrictions on where you can shoot seismic, and whether your well might go through an aquifer which supplies water to a city. ArcGIS with the Geocap extensions can help you integrate and manage surface and subsurface data to address production and environmental challenges. .

Oil and gas companies already use plenty of subsurface data on their existing 2D GIS, including the coverage map for seismic surveys, the locations of wells, the overall basin structures. So moving to subsurface data in 3D on GIS is not such a big step.

Collaboration tool

ArcGIS Portal and Online can be a great collaboration tool for people involved in geoscience or exploration.

One person can send an instant message to another one saying 'have a look at this', the second person can bring it up in a standard www browser on their tablets, phones and laptops.

About 30 oil and gas companies are using Geocap for managing subsurface data, he said. "The first time it was tried, "people were chatting, commenting, and it really changed the way they decided to develop that field," he said. 'So it's a new world coming at us."

"It is a new way of communicating, a new way of sharing data, it complements at the moment very much the existing G+G expert systems,' he said.

Having many sources of data brought together can also make it easier to identify possible data problems. "It reveals a lot of quality issues just by doing this and sharing it. You send the message back to the geologist and say we have to look at that velocity model."

Comparison with retail

Retail and restaurant chains commonly use ArcGIS to plan their next store, when they want to take large amounts of data into account to make a decision, he said.

This is actually a similar process to oil companies planning where to site their next well. "You gather all the information and you plan for the best profitable business in accordance with regulations."

"Without being able to look at the subsurface, you cannot plan and understand the whole."

Associated Companies
» Geocap


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