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Data to increase certainty in an uncertain world
30 Sep, 2013 08:28 am
Given the inherent challenges of drilling for oil in increasingly remote sites, we spend $1 billion (£637 million) annually on subsurface data, so that we can analyse before we drill. At any one site, we spend several million dollars acquiring seismic data, because drilling a well can cost several times this amount. By excellent use of 'Big Data' we can increase our certainty of investments being profitable.
Shell currently holds approximately 50 petabytes of data on-line, which is roughly equivalent to all of the books ever written in any language. In three years, we expect this information volume to multiply tenfold as we continue to acquire data to explore and develop new sites.
Why are data and IT is so important to us?
Our industry is so different from any other. We need more and more excellent data for our scientists and engineers to understand the surface before we drill.
The data, in combination with our in-house scientific capabilities and Information Technology, allows us to find hydrocarbon resourcess profitably. This means we, know how to go about the drilling, whether it is technically feasible, how much hydrocarbon resource we are likely to find and how to best develop those resources. Data is the basic driver to making these informed decisions.
To drill in challenging sites such as the Gulf of Mexico, which is a deep water setting where reservoirs may be found at depths up to 10,000 metres below sea level and (of which about 3,000 metres is the water column), companies need the best possible image of the subsurface. They need to know where to drill, and how many wells are best to develop the reservoir.
This data also informs our bidding for an exploration licence, before we begin. If you bid too highly, you may overspend, and if you are too low then you can lose to a competitor that might be better informed.
What we do with seismic information
Big Data comprises both our seismic images, and the data from the wells that we drill as a result of the analysis. In terms of seismic images, we look for a high-quality subsurface image, with which we can make a decision on whether to proceed. The challenge here is that seismic resolution is often low given the geological detail we wish to image, and we are working constantly to improve this.
If we decide to start drilling a well, we can acquire more detailed subsurface data, as we place sensors within the wells. We can derive substantial new information at the well location and better determine how much hydrocarbon resource is present, and whether to expand investment further. The data may also inform when it is time to stop drilling, or producing from, a well.
Deriving analysis from 50 petabytes
We focus closely on professional data management, so that we can understand the information we are producing. Hundreds of data managers clean and standardise the data, so that our corporate databases can successfully connect to software applications inform users.
The challenge is to be consistent in how we collect and define data. We also want to obtain more insight from this information, driving ever better decisions.
Our investment of over $1 billion (£637 million) per year on subsurface data is a large amount, but is still only a fraction of our overall spending and is a very economic step to take, because it saves us drilling or build production facilities where we are not likely to have success.
Big Data in the oil industry is a very exciting area to work in, for both scientists and technologists. It brings together geology, geophysics and engineers with IT. Our industry relies heavily on both the data and science & engineering capability to be successful, to "see what others cannot see", and will continue to do so.
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