An interview with Geoffrey Dorn

Coordinated by: Satinder Chopra | Photos courtesy: Ray Javier

Geoffrey Dorn, SEG 2002 Distinguished Lecturer, had time for an interview immediately following his lunchtime presentation to the CSEG audience. The RECORDER editors took the opportunity to ask Geoff about the topic of his Distinguished Lecture, visualization, and many other interesting issues.

[Satinder]: Geoffrey, how do you feel about being chosen as the spring 2002 SEG Distinguished Lecturer?

Well, it’s a real honour. It’s one of the highest technical awards the SEG can give someone. I have always enjoyed giving presentations, and teaching classes, and giving workshops – I’m really looking forward to it.

[Oliver]: So is this one of the first stops?

This is the third stop; I gave the presentation a couple of days ago in Jackson, Mississippi. I spent a lot of time on airplanes getting up here, and gave it up at the University of Calgary yesterday.

[Satinder]: How many more to go?

There are a total of 24, over a span of 3 months.

[Oliver]: I take it some will be in more exotic places, or exotic to us, anyway?

<laughter> Well actually my wife decided to come here to Canada with me, because she’s never been able to spend much time here before. The month of May will be all over the place. We take a tour up the west coast, speaking at 4 places, ending up in Alaska, then the next week over in the UK, and the week after that in Hawaii!

[Satinder]: Tell us about your background, your employment, and your experience.

Sure. I started off in Astrophysics. Growing up I was always interested in Astronomy and Astrophysics, so that’s what I went into when I entered the University of New Mexico. I finished the degree in Astrophysics in 1973, right at the time funding for NASA was dropping rapidly, after the Apollo program. At that time I made the decision to swap what had been a hobby, Geology, for what I had thought was to be my vocation, Astrophysics. I swapped them around, made Astronomy a hobby and went into the geosciences instead. I was interested in actually being able to earn a living.

Once I did that, things seemed to really move forward fairly rapidly. I got my Master’s in Geology at the University of New Mexico, with a Geophysics focus. Then I went out to Berkeley for my Ph.D., in exploration geophysics, and directly after finishing that I started work for Arco research in Plano. The first 2 years I was at Arco I really continued the work that I had done for my Ph.D., which was seismic acquisition research, looking at source/earth coupling problems, vibrating sources on the earth.

After 2 years I was asked to take over managing the interactive 3D interpretation research group, and then the year after that I was asked to start managing all of the interpretation research at Arco, which I continued to do up through 1987. In 1987 I asked management to let me to go back to technical work, which they did, and for the next 10 years I did research into 3D interpretation, seismic attributes, reservoir characterization, and I started the 3D visualization work at Arco in 1988. I became an Arco Research Advisor, which was their top technical position, in 1993.

[Oliver]: Was it at this point that the visualization technology began to blossom?

Yes. In 1997 Arco decided to form a visualization technology group, and they asked me to come out of my management “retirement”, and take over managing that group as they put it together. I had about 8 folks working for me at that time. When we put together our first immersive environment, which was a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ cave, a fully tracked environment, we continued developing Arco’s visualization centers in Plano and really were at the point where we had just formed our strategy for propagating this technology through Arco’s operating offices, when the two companies, Arco and BP, decided to merge.

At that point I spent about a year talking with BP’s management, convincing them to keep Arco’s visualization technology together, by donating it to a University. We then solicited written proposals from about 10 or 15 universities, and received 6 back in a competition for the donation, and from those 6 selected the proposal from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The proposal was that BP would donate all of Arco’s visualization hardware/software/intellectual property, but that it would also donate $3m in seed funding, to support operations for the first 3 years at the university, while other research programs were being developed to bring in funding.

As part of that agreement, the university then offered positions back to myself and the core of the technical team at Arco; there were 6 offers made, and 5 people accepted. So we maintained that core technical team, and we have them at the center in Boulder. We’re a fairly unique research center at the university, in that we’re sponsored by more than one college. We’re sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Engineering. The long term goal is for the center to become a regional visualization resource in the front range of the United States, serving the needs of the University of Colorado system, Colorado State University, and Colorado School of Mines, and industry in that area.

[Satinder]: Tell us about the work that is being carried out at the center; what work is it engaged in?

One of the interesting things about the donation is that from the start, BP was interested in the center being a multi-disciplinary visualization research center. So we’re not focused just on the oil and gas industry. We have a strong initial focus in that area, because that’s the industry we’ve come from. Our initial research program is dominated by oil and gas related work. For example, we have an immersive drilling planning research consortium that is just getting started. The immersive drilling planning work was the biggest project area we had at Arco, and we brought that with us. Now we’re building on that with a research consortium at the University of Colorado, and we’re getting our initial commitments from companies that want to participate.

Beyond that a lot of our focus initially has been on building revenue streams, focusing on trying to commercialize intellectual property we developed at Arco and brought with us. This includes some technology for the automatic extraction of faults from 3D seismic, and some technology used for stratigraphic interpretation of seismic volumes. Right now those technologies, and the immersive drilling planning software that we brought with us from Arco, are being evaluated by about 5 different industry companies. The way we’re going to commercialize our intellectual property will be through existing software providers in industry. We will license it to them, and then they will take it out to industry.

We’re putting together a second consortium with the oil and gas industry that will be focused on geological visualization. We have an ongoing research project with Lockheed Martin in aerospace visualization. We’re putting together a research effort that will be a collaboration with the Medical College at the University of Colorado and the Center for Human Simulation, which has been very involved in visualizing very detailed imagery of the human body, and trying to simulate the functions of the human body for training.

[Oliver]: Going back to the merging of BP and Arco – it sounds like Arco was fairly progressive technically, and there was some risk of that technology, of those efforts, being lost. Do you feel that the way it’s turning out is about as good as you could have hoped for?

Yes, I think it is. One of the things BP management did when the merger occurred is this. They came to Plano, to Arco’s research lab, and took a look at the technologies we had. They identified several technologies that they thought Arco was sufficiently advanced in, that they needed to keep those technologies together, to keep things moving forward. BP as a corporation is probably the leader in the oil and gas industry in outsourcing research and development. What they really focus on doing is supporting R & D at the universities, and service and software providers in industry, and then trying to be the best user of that technology. BP was very supportive, from the start, of the idea of keeping this visualization technology together at a university, and being able to keep the research moving.

One the questions that has come up several times when talking to people about this center and how it came about, is if BP thought this technology was so good, why did they let it go? The fact of the matter is that BP saw a lot of potential in this technology, but at the state of its current development at that time, they felt it needed a couple more years, at least, of R & D to establish its value, before it was ready for primetime, and before it would have any really useable products. Rather than keep it internal and use what we had, they wanted to keep the R & D moving forward, and that’s why they chose to donate it to a university.

[Oliver]: Well, it also sounds like it’s been leveraged into some very positive things for the university, and the research community.

Yes, it has been. It’s been a very positive thing for the University of Colorado. Through this donation they have essentially added $10m of value in hardware, software, and intellectual property, and of that $10m, $5m is in cash, both for the buildout of the center and for the operation costs for the first 3 years. This has given the University of Colorado a research center they simply wouldn’t have been able to afford in any other way. I expect from the discussions we’re having, that over the next 2 years we will have research projects started up, working with professors in at least 10 different departments on campus, in both Engineering and Arts & Science.

[Oliver]: That medical imaging project sounds pretty interesting. It reminds me of a movie I saw when I was younger, where a miniature Raquel Welch travels through a human body, the blood corpuscles and all that!

Fantastic Voyage! The Center for Human Simulation at the University of Colorado is where the “Visible Human” project has been conducted and is continuing. In this project they’ve collected very high resolution digital volumes of a human male and female….

[Oliver]: Oh, are these the ones you can see on the Internet?

That’s right! They took a donated body of a man, froze it, and then milled it down a millimeter at a time, taking a very large, high resolution digital image at each layer on the way down. That created a very high resolution digital volume of the human male. They since have had a donation of a human female, and they did the same, but at 1/3 of a millimeter increments, even higher resolution than the male. That’s the group we’re going to be collaborating with.

[Oliver]: Very interesting. I guess anything that’s really big, like an oil reservoir, or really finely detailed, like the human body, lends itself to visualization?

It turns out most things lend themselves to a visualization center, regardless of whether they’re big or small, because in the virtual environment, scale is whatever you make it. For example, we might want to take something very large, like the scale of a 3D seismic volume, or an oil & gas reservoir, and display it at a scale that fits in one of these 12’ x 12’ rooms; we may want to take something very small like some digital data of the human body, and display it at a scale where a portion of a leg might fit on a 6’ table.

[Satinder]: For the sake of clarification: we hear terms like visualization center, seismoterium, visionarium, and so on…..are all these just different terms for the same thing?

They all represent visualization systems of different scales. These can range from a personal head-mounted system that only one individual at a time could use, all the way up to these very large big screen immersive systems. The different terms tend to be dreamt up by different companies, to market a product, and their term identifies their particular product. They’re all basically visualization systems of different scales.

[Oliver]: We were talking about having one built at our shop called a “procrastinarium”– a very cheap system, no hardware.

<laughter> Now that’s an interesting term.

[Satinder]: What is an effective way to utilize a visualization center for the purposes of seismic exploration?

Well, any of the scales of a visualization system can be used for seismic interpretation; the questions are, “Where do you have software that runs, and where are you going to see the greatest benefit? What can your company afford in the way of a system?” You’re going to see the greatest benefit from the large screen immersive systems. You have so much display real estate, you can put so much more data up there, and you have the physical space to get a team of experts, geophysicists, geologists, drilling engineers, in the same space, working on the same data, at the same time. It’s a very different way of working than what we’ve traditionally had in our industry, where each specialist works in their own office. They pass their results back and forth, but they never really integrate and collaborate on things. It’s that integration and collaboration that leads to the tremendous time compression when you use these big systems.

Geoffrey Dorn

We’ve heard that from other people, that that’s the biggest benefit they’ve seen from using visualization centers here in Calgary; that it’s bringing together members of the team, and they’re actually communicating effectively, and not hunched over a little screen. That’s the part they really like. They’re still doing their interpretations on their personal workstations, but it’s really made the team aspect of their jobs more effective.

[Satinder]: In your talk today, you really emphasized all the benefits of visualization centers, how powerful they are, how they shorten cycle times, improve efficiency, and so on. Still we find that not many companies have adopted this technology in their exploration programs. What do you attribute this to?

Well, it’s a new technology that is penetrating the industry, and it’s penetrating it over time. If you took a look back to the end of 1997, there were three companies that were using what I would call large screen visualization centers to any extent. Those were Arco, Texaco, and Norsk-Hydro. Now there were other companies that had a large screen with a single projector just to get a big image, but they hadn’t really taken that step to multi-screen multi-projector visualization center. And each of those 3 companies started off in 1997 with one system. There are now a number of companies, major oil companies, that have multiple systems. Probably BP has the largest number with 17, and they’re installing more this year; Exxon has plans to install quite a number of systems in their operating offices this year; ChevronTexaco has several systems; Anadarko has purchased quite a number of systems, so we’re seeing penetration into the slightly smaller companies. It’s like any new technology, it takes time, particularly when it is as expensive as it is. The large curved screen systems without tracking, typically cost on the order of about US$1m when you include the cost of the big computer to drive it. The large fully immersive systems that have tracking, rear projection on all of the walls, floor projection, those systems including the computers will typically cost 2.5 – 3.0 million dollars. So there’s a bit of a hurdle to overcome.

I can remember in the early 90’s having to spend an awful lot of time with management convincing them to spend $65,000 on an SGI desktop workstation. It certainly takes an effort to get them to spend several million!

[Oliver]: I think in a local sense there’s another factor at play, and that is that a lot of the wells being drilled here are pretty small, and the financial risk of any given well is pretty small, and the cycle time is maybe in days. We’re not exposed to that many big offshore projects. If you’ve got a $40m well, spending a week or two in a visualization center is probably time well spent.

[Satinder]: In spite of that we have 5 visualization centers in Calgary!

[Oliver]: Well, they’re the companies working the east coast and Gulf of Mexico.

[Satinder]: We have Conoco, we have Veritas, we have PanCanadian, a little one at Gedco, and Landmark. We still have in industry, especially in upper management, a group of people who feel visualization is only a computer gimmick, looks nice, and is a good tool to please management, no more. How do you respond to this attitude?

I respond with examples. The best way to respond to someone who’s never used 3D visualization, and has moved up in management because of their success in the company but what they’ve worked off of is paper, off contour maps – show them examples from 3D seismic data where there’s a contour map, and it’s pretty obvious what the gross structure is. Then show them a 3D visualization and all the detail they were missing. All that detail can be very important.

In my lecture I use an example of a reservoir where in the operating office they used a modern 3D seismic interpretation system – this was in the early 90’s – to interpret the seismic data and try to interpret the detailed fault pattern in the reservoir for an enhanced oil recovery project. We used 3D visualization to interpret the faults, which they didn’t, and basically their density of faulting was only 1/3 of what it actually was, and there was an entire trend of faulting they missed. If they could actually drill their injector wells and pump fluids into the reservoir based on their interpretation, they never would have known where their fluids were going.

So you take examples like that, and you have to build up a whole library of them, and you sit down with the senior manager who’s never experienced this stuff, and you show them suites of examples like that to gradually work them over this hurdle.

[Oliver]: I wanted to refer to some of the stuff you referred to today in your lecture regarding tracking and so on. I don’t really know much about this, but my understanding is that with a lot of these virtual or simulation systems, people can experience nausea when their inner ear is telling them they’re not moving, but they’re totally immersed in something that’s telling their eyes that they are moving; their brain sort of gets out of sync.

Right. It’s called distibular disequilibrium, or cave sickness is another term for it. It is something that can occur, and some people are more sensitive to it than others. There are a variety of things you need to pay detailed attention to, when you are displaying the stereo 3D data — if you pay attention to it, you can minimize that kind of illness. For example, with stereo display if you set up the plane of focus and the plane of zero parallax to be coincident, then you’ll help minimize some of those problems. It turns out that very rapid motion of the display controlled by someone else, can make you feel fairly sick, fairly quickly! If you’re controlling the display, of the motion if the display is smoother, less rapid, if you pay attention to details like plane of focus, plane of zero parallax, then you can actually develop software that people can come in and use for hours without feeling any ill effects.

One of our applications at Arco, in fact it was not unusual for a team from operations to come in and start using it at 9 o’clock in the morning, they would forget about lunch, and we’d have to drag them out at 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening! You can use it for hours, as long as the application is well written.

[Oliver]: So the technology has basically overcome those problems.


[Oliver]: It’s a similar effect when you’re driving with someone that’s driving erratically, it’s not very pleasant, but if you’re at the wheel, you know what’s coming.

That’s right. But if you want, we do know how to write an application that we can pretty well guarantee to make someone sick within 5 minutes.

[Oliver]: Good for video games aimed at teenagers! <laughter>

[Satinder]: VoxelGeo played an important role in the area of computer-aided exploration. How does it enhance the effectiveness and productivity at the interpretation level?

It certainly did. Do you mean VoxelGeo specifically, or volume rendering?

[Satinder]: Volume rendering – the technique not the product.

Yes, a product of Paradigm, and they are sponsors of our visualization center. VoxelGeo was the first significant volume visualization tool on the oil and gas industry. It was started as a crossover from the medical industry. It started as VoxelVision, a medical visualization tool from a company in Iowa. They thought that seismic volumes might be a good application for it. That company started up a research consortium around the late 80’s, early 90’s. There were 5 or 6 companies that participated in this consortium, funding and directing its development. Pretty unique, since it wasn’t at a university, it was actually a consortium at a commercial company developing a commercial product.

It is interesting to note that those 5 companies or so that participated included Arco, Texaco, Mobil, Exxon, and at times BP. At Texaco the representative to the consortium was Mike Zeitlin, who of course headed the formation of Texaco’s visualization center, which spun off and formed Magic Earth. I was Arco’s representative, Tracy Stark was Exxon’s representative; Tracy in the later 90’s ended up joining the visualization center at Arco. Mark Doven and Ryan Savin were the Mobil representatives to that visualization consortium, and they are now part of the visualization research team at ExxonMobil in Houston.

The reason I went through this was because not only was that consortium and its technology seminal to defining visualization and interpretation in our industry, but it also brought together for the first time, the people who headed up much of the initial development of visualization in our industry from these companies – Exxon, Mobil, Texaco and Arco. Volume visualization has become very important in interpretation. It allows you to do something that you can’t in any other way, and that is by adjusting transparency and translucency, see structures and stratigraphy in the seismic volume, prior to doing any interpretation.

So one of the big values of volume visualization is it allows you to preview the seismic volume, understand in general terms the structural regimes you’re dealing with; it tells you where is it going to be easier to interpret, where autopickers are going to work well, where are they going to fail, where am I going to have to do more handwork? You can do all of that preview and planning, and that can greatly accelerate the interpretation process. It also allows you to do things in the modern systems, whether it’s VoxelGeo or GeoProbe or other products from Landmark and Schlumberger; it allows you to go in and do what they call geobody interpretation, where instead of picking horizons you might put seed voxels in what appears to be a channel system, and have the system automatically extract that three dimensional paleo-channel, paleodepositional system, from the volume in 3D. A tremendous amount of power it brings to the table.

[Oliver]: You mentioned that your visualization program at the University of Colorado involves several faculties. In these different fields has there been parallel work going on in visualization, as there has been in the geophysical industry, and are these all just coming together?

There has been extensive visualization done in other industries over time. I would have to say the biggest user of these large visualization environments, and particularly fully tracked immersive ones, is the automotive industry – vehicle design, whether it’s Daimler-Chrysler, Ford, International Harvester, Caterpillar – they’re all using these immersive environments in their engineering design programs. That’s where it’s been used the most. Our industry has borrowed from medical visualization, because they face very similar problems in terms of size of data volumes, colocated volumes – you may have an MRI volume and a CT scan volume to work with simultaneously – and so on. There’s been exchange of technology back and forth between medicine and oil and gas in visualization over the last 12 or 15 years.

[Oliver]: Have the geologists made use of visualization? I was thinking of the palinspastic reconstructions they do – it would be really neat to have your geologist in there, and you’re moving backwards and forwards through the depositional and erosional sequence of events, in say, a channel sand environment, or the sequence of events that resulted in a thrust faulted environment like we have here in the foothills.

In my work over the years I have found that the specialists that are most quickly attracted to its benefits are in fact the structural geologists. When I started this work on the desktop in 1988, structural geologists were the most enthusiastic about the work being done, much more so than the geophysicists were at the time. They are definitely supporters and users of this technology. One of the structural geologists in my visualization group at Arco was in fact the in-house specialist in palinspastic reconstructions.

[Oliver]: I’d love to see that, because that’s a very hard thing for me to get my head around. I see 3D volumes, with all their detail, and it just seems like a hodgepodge of faults and structure and intersecting features, and I think these people must be incredible to put all that into some sequence of events and some time frame.

Has the visualization program benefited the students, aside from the injection of money? Has it enhanced the Geophysics program?

I think it’s certainly enhanced the Geophysics program. The geosciences at the University of Colorado is not one of the programs that has historically been very strongly coupled with the oil and gas industry. The focus has been more on mining Geology & Geophysics, and solid earth Geology & Geophysics. There is one program there that has been in existence some years now called EMARC, which is in the geosciences department and runs a fairly large consortium with the oil and gas industry, but that’s it. So our connections at the university with the oil and gas industry are significantly increased because of the donation, and our focus at this new center is to work with industry.

In terms of the effect on education, we have a research role, we also have an educational role at the university. We will begin teaching some courses that integrate 3D visualization into the course work this fall, in geological sciences. The goal is to take a block of visualization material and then integrate it into course work in a wide variety of departments, including aerospace engineering, civil engineering, astronomy, physics, molecular biology, any of a wide variety of topic areas; integrate visualization into those courses at the undergraduate level.

In addition to that, we’re going to put together a series of courses with the Computer Sciences department that focus on visualization and virtual reality technology, with the idea of ending up in the position in the next couple of years where a graduate student could finish a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in Computer Science, with a certificate in virtual reality.

[Oliver]: I think a lot of students have a degree in virtual reality!

<laughter> We also have a fairly unique installation for a university. There’s only one other university that has a visualization system of the class we have, and that is this reconfigurable, fully immersive environment where the side modules can be rotated open, so you can go from a 12’ x 12’ closed room to an open configuration where it may be 30’ across and 12’ deep. The advantage that has is that it allows us to install theater style seating in front of the system; we can move it to an open configuration and use it directly in class work – we can bring a class of up to 25 students in there, and run the entire class using the virtual environment. As far as I know, we’re the only university set up to do that.

[Oliver]: One thing, if I was the person signing the cheque for an installation of this type, I’d be worried about it becoming obsolete quickly, because it seems to be a rapidly advancing technology.

It is. It is a concern, and it is expensive technology. In your business plan, you need to plan on being able to replace the large computer system that drives the immersive environment, once every three years or so. You need to plan on being able to make regular upgrades to the other hardware of the system, projectors, screens, tracking systems, things like that. The business model has to include generating enough revenue to not only pay the normal ongoing bills and paycheques, but also accumulate money over a period of three years, so that you have several million dollars to invest in a new computer at the end of that time. If you don’t do that, you will become obsolete.

One of the issues with the big visualization centers is the cost. There are major oil companies that can afford to install these expensive systems. There are a lot of smaller operators who take a look at a US$1-3 million price tag, and are quite intimidated. It’s quite difficult to make that kind of investment given the scale of their business. They would prefer to be spending that money drilling another well. I think what’s going to happen there is, initially they’re going to be able to access that technology by leasing time on systems available elsewhere.

Continuum Resources was a company in Houston that had this as a business model, but they recently went into bankruptcy. The problem they had was they were too early to market; they had the hardware, they had the systems, but there wasn’t any software to run on it for everyone to use productively. I do still think that is going to happen, in the near future – that a company can come in and lease time on a system, say like the one we have at the University of Colorado, and have access to the technology for their work, the same technology that the larger integrated companies have in their internal centers.

[Satinder]: You referred to the use of neurons in the human brain – something like 60% are used only for vision. When we’re visualizing a 3D volume, are we using a bigger percentage?

I don’t think it works that way.

[Oliver]: It’s a real signal processing problem. We get this visual information passed to our brains no matter what environment we’re in. But it’s an under determined problem, so all those neurons are being used to perform signal processing tricks to determine depth, relative position, boundaries, and all those elements Geoff listed in his talk.

That’s right, and the 60% includes all of those neurons doing that visual processing, so that I know how to reach out and grab this Coke can – I know exactly where it is in 3D. What we’re trying to do in visualization is we’re trying to use that part of the brain which is designed to do these things very, very well, whereas in the past – in fact those mangers you mentioned that we need to convince to spend the money on these systems, but never used 3D visualization – what they did is they drew contours maps. They know what the contours represent, and they’re using the cognitive part of the brain.

[Satinder]: The 3D model is being made in the brain!

Exactly. They’re using a part of the part brain not associated with vision to understand what the contour map represents. Avery inefficient use of the mind.

[Oliver]: Whereas the visualization technology is plugging into the existing neurological architecture of our brain – basically taking a shortcut.

[Satinder]: Do you anticipate any revolutionary change in the way or style of doing interpretation in the near future, particularly with the use of visualization?

I think we’re in the middle of a revolution in that area. That’s why I’m hesitating to answer, because I don’t think it’s to come, it’s already started. The revolution is a combination of things, a combination of applying visualization, applying neural networks to multi-attribute volumes to help integrate a much broader range of information than we could see at one time, and extracting more and more complex information from 3D seismic volumes than we ever could in the past.

[Oliver]: Do you see the visualization center as the arena where that all comes together?

Yes, part of the reason for that is that to extract all that additional information and detail really requires that you integrate people from a number of different disciplines. It isn’t just going to be the geophysicist or geologist. You’re going to need a statistician, a petroleum engineer, a rock physics guy, a whole variety of specialists. The best way we’ve found to get all those people working and communicating together is in one of these big visualization centers.

[Satinder]: So in a visionarium let’s say, you have an asset team sitting and making decisions about multi-million dollar wells, in a matter of a few hours, and earlier it used to take weeks or months. And of course a lot of these decisions are affected by the quality of the data that is being viewed — it may be seismic data or any other type of data. Is there not a sense of nervousness or uneasiness when one is making such big decisions in such a shortened period of time, based almost totally on the visualization?

Actually, the visualization tends to increase the comfort level when making decisions, from what I’ve seen. There is risk in exploring for oil and gas; there is risk in drilling a well. What you try to do with all of your technical activity is assess what that risk is, and then find ways to minimize it. 3D visualization is just another tool that can help you minimize that risk and increase that comfort level when deciding to drill that well. Because it lets you see things in the true three dimensions in which they exist. You see the relationships between things.

For example, we had a number of cases at Arco where we were able to take some data that was used to make decisions, in a traditional oil and gas industry approach like 2D displays and montages on the wall, we were able to take the same data and present it in a 3D visualization environment. If the project was one where we had initially made a decision to drill and then there was some problem in the drilling, typically when we brought the data up in the 3D, it was clear where the problem was, and in fact if we had looked at it in 3D before, we might have avoided the mistake.

[Oliver]: You had a couple of good examples of that in your talk today. One was where you needed to avoid slump areas when locating sea bottom drilling locations. That one, if you were a manager and your team presented things, like you say, on the wall with colored sections and contours and the like, you probably wouldn’t have a great feel of confidence in what you were seeing. Your decision or opinion would more likely be based on the level of confidence you had in the people, whereas if you saw the 3D image, you’d say, “Yeah, that looks pretty good.” The other one was where you were locating the path of the seafloor pipeline, with the color bar representing steepness of slope – same sort of thing, if you just looked at a contour map, you might not really have had a good feeling for it; the visualization makes it more intuitive and obvious I would think. But there’s an implied lot of legwork behind these displays that go into the visualizations, so the technical people still have to do all their work.


[Satinder]: All this visualization we’re doing is still based on post-stack data or attributes. Has there been visualization work that has been done on pre-stack data?

Yes, but less than on post-stack data, because it’s a bit more of a daunting problem because of the pile of data you’ve got to deal with. There’s more and more work done on applying visualization to pre-stack data. What we were doing just a few years ago was typically doing some computational analysis of pre-stack data, say for various AVO attributes, and taking the results of that and representing that as a post-stack attribute volume, and then using that in the interpretation process. I’m thinking of one field in particular where we knew there was a particular type of AVO anomaly associated with the presence of hydrocarbons in the field, so that pre-stack analysis occurred, and we generated the poststack AVO attribute volume and used that in the interpretation process. What’s happened over the last four years since we did that work is that computers have got more advanced, disk access speeds have increased, storage capabilities have increased, there’s been movement towards actually using the visualization directly in the pre-stack domain, and I expect that will continue.

[Satinder]: Do you have any figures for the number of these visualization centers in say North America or around the world, that would give us an idea of the mushrooming effect of this technology?

It starts in ’97, there were probably just three of these centers in North America, and perhaps 5 or 6 in the world total. Today, as I said, BP has 17, ExxonMobil has at least 3 and has plans to take their total number up to double digits this year, ChevronTexaco has several systems probably in the order of 5 plus, Anadarko has purchased a number of systems.

[Oliver]: These would typically be located in the larger oil centers?

Yes, BP has 4 or 5 of these large scale visualization systems in their Houston office, and they’re kept busy all the time. The next step, as companies put in more and more of these centers around the world, is going to be connecting these centers up, so that people, say, in the Houston and London offices can collaborate virtually on a project, both them seeing the data, both of them working on the data, talking back and forth in real time.

[Satinder]: So you’re talking of visualization centers in terms of video-conferencing?

More than video-conferencing, because they’ll both be able to interpret the data, plan the wells, and see what the other is doing.

[Satinder]: You were talking about cutting down the cycle time, being more efficient, and not needing as many people to interpret any given prospect. In these days of downsizing in industry, is visualization in fact not in the best interests of people seeking employment?

That’s an interesting twist to put on it! The downsizing of the industry is going to occur independently of visualization, whether visualization is there or not. Consolidation is going to occur, and the companies that are downsized, merged, the surviving companies are going to continually be asking more of their interpretation geophysicists, geologists, and reservoir engineers – so the workload is going to go up. 3D visualization is one of the ways to survive in that environment, by increasing the efficiency. You can get much more done in a shorter period of time.

So rather than saying, as you were implying, that 3D visualization, because it makes things more efficient, will allow companies to downsize more, we’re already at a point where there’s more work out there than people can get done. It’s not unusual when working on an exploration project, to be faced with a deadline when that exploration or development well is going to get drilled. That drilling deadline is not going to move. So what you do is, you do the best job you can in the time available, before you start drilling that well.

By using visualization tools you’re more efficient, you can do a much better job in the same time, or as good a job in a shorter time, both of which, by the way, significantly help the company, and the company’s bottom line. If we are able to support and maintain the company’s bottom line, I would contend that there would be a little less downsizing and consolidation going on.

[Oliver]: Outside of your work in visualization, what sorts of things do you like to do?

My hobbies include running – I ran distances up to full marathons up until about 8 or 9 years ago when my knees told me they couldn’t take that anymore. So I run shorter distances now. Music has always been a hobby of mine; listening to music, playing guitar, composing music – I’ve directed several music groups in the past. Probably beyond those things reading – I read pretty extensively, I guess what I would call science articles, and science fiction.

[Satinder]: We sent out a request, and I believe one has gone out to you. We requested you to write an article for a special issue of the RECORDER that’s coming up. We would be grateful if you could contribute. The issue focuses on the role of visualization.

We would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity, and getting to know more about you and your views. Thank you very much.

You’re welcome.

[Oliver]: We especially thank you for doing this right after giving your Distinguished Lecture – you must feel quite drained — a double whammy!

I really enjoy giving presentations, and I feel energized by them, especially when I have a receptive audience, as I did today. Thank you.


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