Visualization technology helps oil companies drill better wells

Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2000

Associated Press Writer

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- In what looks like a small theater at BP's Alaska headquarters, petroleum engineers, geologists and geophysicists are using sophisticated 3-D visualization technology to drill better wells at the company's North Slope fields.

The Highly Interactive Visualization Environment -- or HIVE -- technology was installed 10 months ago and already has saved the company at least $1.5 million in drilling costs on the North Slope, said Steve Jones, a geologist with the company's Prudhoe Bay operations.

''We're able to go for targets that are more complicated and drill them with a greater chance of success,'' Jones said.

The company demonstrated the system for reporters Wednesday.

The darkened virtual-reality workroom is loaded with $650,000 in computer and projection technology. Inside, geophysicist Stephen Lewis manipulates a computer-generated seismic image of the Prudhoe Bay Field on a wide, movie-type screen.

When viewed with a pair of high-tech 3-D glasses, the colorful map shows fault lines and the route of pipelines snaking below the earth's surface.

BP officials say the system enables engineers, geologists and others to better understand complex drilling problems and work together closely to solve them more quickly.

''It's not just about technology, but about changing the way people work,'' Lewis said. ''We're educating one another about what each of us does.''

Instead of communicating with e-mail and memos, small groups from different disciplines can gather in the HIVE and get work done more efficiently, Jones said.

The technology has resulted in better drilling plans and fewer problems during drilling and that has helped to reduce costs, he said.

In addition, because visualization has made it easier to drill directional wells, the technology can help oil companies seek out oil that might have been too difficult to reach in the past, Jones said.

And the ''gee-whiz'' technology makes work fun, he said.

NASA and other organization have used such visualization technology for years, but its use in the oil industry is relatively new. BP installed its first HIVE system at its Houston offices early last year. In addition to Anchorage, the company is using the technology in Norway, Scotland, England and Egypt.

Phillips Petroleum has a similar system in Bartlesville, Okla. and is installing another at its Anchorage offices, said Phillips spokeswoman Dawn Patience. It's expected to be operating by early next year, she said.

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