Blue-line paper structure maps have long been an invaluable tool for oil and gas prospecting.
But there’s a downside: They’re cumbersome and cluttered with various data, and what you see is what you get -- until the supplier issues updated versions.
And they’re so yesterday.
Today, it’s possible to boot up the computer wherever you happen to be, enter a password and point and click your way to a raft of digitized electronic structure maps and a virtual storehouse of underlying data that would thrill even the most curmudgeonly prospector.
For example, one type of tool is StructureMaps.com. The only technology the user needs to provide is a high speed Internet connection.
This online boost to prospecting was created by Geological Consulting Services (GCS) as the logical follow-up to churning out paper maps for the Mesozoic trend of the Gulf Coast for 30 years.
“The old paper maps were as intelligent as they were going to get,” said Carl Dillistone, president of GCS. “Now you can click on data elements and there are databases there. We’ve scanned all the data in-house that we can make available and linked it to the wells.
“A geologist can work an area without spending time running around looking for data,” Dillistone said. “They can get everything without being a data clerk.”
For instance, users can click on a well symbol and bring up a log to download and display in their own software. Or they can bring up areal photos, topographic quads, scout tickets (where available from state agencies) and more.
The maps can’t be altered, but the layers can be turned on and off. For those who want the flexibility to manipulate the data, a licensing program allows the licensee to “rent” an array of data, including a digital land grid and well location files and the GCS formation tops data file.
The program requires certain software and the expertise to use it. Prospectors can download the data into their own software and exploit them however needed.
Veteran geologist and AAPG member John Griffiths, president of Calvin Resources, is a devotee of online prospecting.
“It’s amazing the amount of information you can pull together,” Griffiths said. “For someone like me who does it all, the amount of time you save and the amount of data you get is just phenomenal.”
He cited a recent effort to investigate a well that had been staked to drill to 25,000 feet.
“I knew of a couple of old deep wells that were drilled, so I pulled up the online stuff and found where the company was offsetting one of those,” Griffiths said. “I looked at a map and looked at 10-15 wells that would have seen the same interval or something near it, and I pulled log raster images straight off the Web site and had a deep map built in an hour. Then, using the tops picks, I isopached an interval covering most of the basin, which took another 15 minutes.
“Within two hours I had an isopach showing basically the axis of the basin and what might have been the channel that fed the sands coming from the source,” Griffiths continued, “and had a cross section built showing what the sands looked like at depth in that area covering about four counties.”
In the not-so-old days, this endeavor would have taken weeks.
“Even five years ago this sort of thing was out of reach of most of us,” Griffiths said. “Now the technology has come forward and the cost of the data has come down.”
Understanding the Areas
Given the ongoing concern in the industry about the tendency of some geoscientists to depend more on the computer than on science to search for hydrocarbons, it’s noteworthy to point out there’s more to this online digital prospecting game than pointing and clicking your way to a drilling target.
“As with most anything in the oil and gas business, a big part of the process is understanding the area,” Griffiths said. “Having worked east Texas close to 30 years, I’ve looked at a lot of the basin and have a good idea of the productive trends -- what produces where and why. You’re filtering all you see through that process and experience.
“For instance, while looking for a particular log, I noticed a show well that wasn’t offset and right away wondered if it should be, because I know the trend of the producing interval in that particular area,” he said. “And I know you can go from a show well to one that produces maybe five Bcf in one location.
“The online data help generate leads like this quickly,” he noted. “Then you can rapidly put together the additional information to see if it’s a prospect or not. In fact, I can generate a map on top of the interval of interest covering the entire East Texas Basin in a few minutes and do a quick appraisal.”
Despite the growing buzz over the advantages of this futuristic-type online prospecting, old habits die hard, and there are folks out there who still work up deals the old way -- and it’s still a good thing.
“Sometimes the time it takes to stop and learn the computer world can be a detriment to success,” Dillistone said. “With oil and gas prices where they are today, people need to be out selling prospects, so there’s no time to learn the computer if they haven’t already.”
Even so, the prospectors appear to be embracing the digital age in increasing numbers, which has the potential to open up unprecedented opportunities.
The ability to open up a laptop computer wherever you are and pull up the complete prospect including maps, logs, cross sections -- indeed, the whole enchilada – has profound implications for the way business is conducted.