DALLAS - Geologists and geophysicists searching for
oil are using computers to construct complex models of geological
formations underground to help determine where to drill wells.
The approach is based on combining computer graphics and data
bases in a technique called interactive modeling, in which images on
the screen are manipulated to examine interesting underground
formations that might contain oil.
The data come from observations of geological features below the
surface of the earth, records of the formations penetrated by
earlier wells in the area and information recorded when underground
explosions are detonated to generate seismic signals in the search
The technology means that with a few keystrokes on a computer
keyboard a geologist or geophysicist can transform vast quantities
of exploration data into multicolored two- and three-dimensional
underground diagrams. This eliminates much of the time-consuming
calculations, drawing and research that have characterized
exploration in years past.
Interactive modeling is growing in oil exploration because
several forces have come together.
At a time when personal computers have become steadily more
powerful and their cost has fallen dramatically, the oil industry
has found itself in a cost-cutting squeeze brought on by the decline
in recent years in the world price of crude oil.
As petroleum companies have tightened their belts and laid off
workers - including highly trained geologists and geophysicists -
the demand has grown for cost-efficient oil exploration methods that
``Interactive modeling is a very exciting field because you are
able to transmit your ideas into the computer,'' said David R.
Matuzak. a geologist and computer expert for the Amoco Corp.
He began working with computers in oil exploration more than 25
years ago. ``It gives you a lot of flexibility, which is important,
because that's the way oil is found, through creativity, imagination
Several small computer companies have appeared in this new
Sales this year are estimated at $80 million, and are expected
to triple, to around $250 million, in the next several years, said
Peter D. Schleider of Wessel, Arnold & Henderson, an institutional
research firm in Minneapolis.
Industry experts say that a growing number of oil well
discoveries, in both explored and unexplored areas, have been made
using the computer modeling technique.
The technology is also being extended to interpret satellite
images of oilfields and produce a new type of map.
Map making has been the traditional tool of oil exploration.
Experts interpreted the data and drew maps, laboriously coloring
them by hand to indicate different underground formations and the
potential that they held for oil.
Now the computer systems are taking over much of this work,
performing on the screen in minutes what geophysicists and
geologists in the past spent weeks to do, using reams of paper and
colored pencils. …