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October 27, 2022

How it Works

T he quest for energy security hinges on our ability to locate and extract oil and gas reserves efficiently. Seismic exploration, the technique of mapping Earth’s subsurface using sound waves, plays a crucial role in this endeavor. However, the ever-increasing complexity of seismic surveys translates to massive datasets that strain conventional computing power. This is where High Performance Computing (HPC) steps in, offering a potent weapon in the race against time to identify potential reservoirs within strict deadlines. 

Seismic surveys involve emitting sound waves and recording their reflections from various underground layers. These reflections, captured by geophones, hold the key to deciphering the subsurface structure. Modern surveys, employing denser receiver grids and wider bandwidths, capture a wealth of information, resulting in colossal datasets. Processing these datasets traditionally involved running computationally intensive algorithms on single computers, a process that could take weeks or even months. This time lag significantly impacts decision-making and project timelines.

HPC offers a revolutionary solution by harnessing the power of multiple interconnected computers working in parallel. These clusters, often housed on premises (dedicated data centers) or on Cloud, can perform complex calculations simultaneously, significantly accelerating seismic data processing. Here’s how HPC empowers the hunt for oil and gas:

  1. Faster Seismic Imaging: Seismic imaging, the process of transforming raw data into interpretable subsurface pictures, relies heavily on algorithms like pre-stack depth migration (PSDM). PSDM accounts for complex wave propagation phenomena, leading to highly detailed images but demanding immense computational resources. HPC clusters with thousands of cores can tackle these algorithms with ease, generating high-resolution images in a fraction of the time compared to traditional computing.
  2. Advanced Reservoir Characterization: Once potential reservoirs are identified, detailed characterization is crucial for successful extraction. This involves analyzing seismic data to assess factors like porosity, permeability, and fluid saturation. HPC enables the application of sophisticated reservoir characterization techniques, such as Full Waveform Inversion (FWI). FWI iteratively refines a subsurface velocity model by simulating wave propagation through the Earth, leading to a more accurate understanding of the reservoir’s properties. However, FWI calculations are notoriously compute-intensive. HPC allows for faster FWI runs, enabling a quicker and more comprehensive assessment of reservoir potential.
  3. Streamlined Interpretation and Decision-Making: Seismic data interpretation, the process of extracting meaningful information from the images, often involves complex workflows with multiple processing steps. HPC facilitates the automation of these workflows, enabling interpreters to focus on critical decision-making tasks. Additionally, HPC empowers interactive visualization techniques, allowing interpreters to manipulate and explore seismic data in real-time, fostering a more informed and time-sensitive decision-making process. 
  4. Cloud-Based Scalability and Flexibility: Cloud computing platforms offer access to on-demand HPC resources. This allows exploration companies to scale their computing power up or down based on project needs, eliminating the need for upfront investments in expensive hardware infrastructure. This flexibility is particularly valuable for smaller companies or those with fluctuating project requirements. Additionally, cloud-based HPC solutions often come with pre-configured software environments, streamlining the onboarding process and reducing setup time.

Despite the significant advantages, implementing HPC solutions for seismic data processing comes with challenges. The initial investment in setting up an HPC cluster can be substantial, although cloud-based options are mitigating this concern. Additionally, successfully utilizing HPC requires expertise in both seismic processing and parallel computing techniques. However, as the industry recognizes the immense benefits of HPC, investments in training and infrastructure are on the rise.  

“Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank.”
– Carl Friedrich Gauss

Benefits & Results

The benefits of HPC extend beyond raw processing speed. Here are some additional advantages:

  1. Improved Accuracy: Faster processing allows for more sophisticated algorithms and iterative workflows, leading to more accurate interpretations and a reduced risk of overlooking potential reservoirs.
  2. Cost-Effectiveness: By enabling quicker interpretation and decision-making, HPC can help oil and gas companies optimize exploration efforts, reducing overall costs.
  3. Collaboration: HPC environments can facilitate collaboration between geoscientists, engineers, and data scientists by providing a centralized platform for data access and analysis, leading to a more integrated exploration strategy.   

Looking ahead, the future of seismic data processing is inextricably linked with HPC advancements. Continuous innovation in hardware, with the emergence of specialized processors like GPUs, promises further performance gains. Moreover, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with HPC holds immense potential. Machine learning algorithms can automate tedious tasks in seismic workflows and even assist with reservoir characterization, further accelerating the identification and evaluation of potential resources.

Finally, the ever-growing complexity of seismic data sets presents a challenge, but also an opportunity. By leveraging the power of HPC, exploration companies can gain a significant edge in the race against time. HPC facilitates rapid and accurate seismic data processing, leading to faster identification and characterization of oil and gas reserves. As the technology continues to evolve and becomes more accessible, HPC will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in ensuring a secure and efficient energy future.