Core Saving Efforts Win Results

Irreplaceable Samples Being Preserved

Computer models. Virtual reality. Four-D seismic. They're easy! They're fun!

And too often in this high-tech world it's easy for geologists to become so immersed in the newest technology that they forget that their journey ultimately begins and ends with the rocks.

Some say this inexorable move to a digital world has endangered the most basic type of research available to geologists: the thousands of feet of core from wells all over the globe.

It wasn't that long ago when industry officials were fearful that massive amounts of core were being dumped.

But today, largely through the efforts of various geological organizations, the need to preserve cores and samples is beginning to catch on, and companies throughout the United States are looking for ways to make a growing body of core available to the profession as a whole.

"A lot of people have been working very hard on the issue of core preservation," said Edith Allison, program manager with the Department of Energy's office of natural gas and petroleum technology and chairperson of the AAPG Committee for Preservation of Core and Samples.

We are making progress in getting the message out to the industry," she said, "and today we are beginning to reap the rewards of this effort."

AAPG's committee has been instrumental in the efforts to encourage permanent preservation of cores and samples — as well as informing geologists just how to access the material.

"As earth scientists we now have a wide variety of tools and processes to carry out our investigations," says the mission statement for the AAPG Committee. "Ultimately, however, we need the data recorded in the rocks to support the emerging automated programs for interpretation and analysis."

For AAPG members there is a particular need for representative samples from the subsurface, but these rocks are expensive to collect, difficult to archive and their existence may not be obvious to those who need them the most.

Cores and cuttings don't lose their usefulness over time — in fact, the opposite is true.

They often have characteristics and potential data values that can't be duplicated today.

Please log in to read the full article

Computer models. Virtual reality. Four-D seismic. They're easy! They're fun!

And too often in this high-tech world it's easy for geologists to become so immersed in the newest technology that they forget that their journey ultimately begins and ends with the rocks.

Some say this inexorable move to a digital world has endangered the most basic type of research available to geologists: the thousands of feet of core from wells all over the globe.

It wasn't that long ago when industry officials were fearful that massive amounts of core were being dumped.

But today, largely through the efforts of various geological organizations, the need to preserve cores and samples is beginning to catch on, and companies throughout the United States are looking for ways to make a growing body of core available to the profession as a whole.

"A lot of people have been working very hard on the issue of core preservation," said Edith Allison, program manager with the Department of Energy's office of natural gas and petroleum technology and chairperson of the AAPG Committee for Preservation of Core and Samples.

We are making progress in getting the message out to the industry," she said, "and today we are beginning to reap the rewards of this effort."

AAPG's committee has been instrumental in the efforts to encourage permanent preservation of cores and samples — as well as informing geologists just how to access the material.

"As earth scientists we now have a wide variety of tools and processes to carry out our investigations," says the mission statement for the AAPG Committee. "Ultimately, however, we need the data recorded in the rocks to support the emerging automated programs for interpretation and analysis."

For AAPG members there is a particular need for representative samples from the subsurface, but these rocks are expensive to collect, difficult to archive and their existence may not be obvious to those who need them the most.

Cores and cuttings don't lose their usefulness over time — in fact, the opposite is true.

They often have characteristics and potential data values that can't be duplicated today.

A Concerted Effort

A new study on preservation of geoscience data and collections conducted by the National Research Council is expected to be released in April, Allison said.

The study was commissioned by several groups, including AAPG, DOE, the U.S. Geological Survey and the American Geological Institute, and it examines the issues associated with access to and preservation of geoscience data.

Its overall goal is to develop a comprehensive strategy for managing geoscience data in the United States.

AGI, in conjunction with the DOE and the private sector, also has established the National Geoscience Data Repository System to promote geoscience data preservation, and increase its accessibility to the geoscience community.

A key element of the NGDRS is GeoTrek, a geographic information, Internet-based catalog that now encompasses 72 percent of all core currently available in the lower 48 states.

Data added to the GeoTrek system in the past six months include:

  • The USGS Core and Cuttings library in Denver's database.
  • Unocal's onshore publicly accessible cores and cuttings.
  • The Texas Railroad Commission log data.
  • Chevron's core data continues to be added.

Future additions planned over the next nine months include the Kansas core metadata and a link to the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology live inventory control system that tracks ancillary data and provides real-time core location information.

"Just a few months ago the coverage offered by GeoTrek was much smaller, so the system has made important strides recently," Allison said. "Anyone who has not been to GeoTrek in a while needs to return, because it is a much better product today."

With GeoTech a person can search by location and find all the core available on an area — and in many cases link directly to the Internet system of the appropriate repository.

"And it's free," Allison added. "This service has been operational for a couple of years and is a tremendous resource for making the core and samples useful to the industry.

"That's a critical part of what AAPG's committee, AGI and other organizations are doing today," she said, "focusing on making the core and sample data useful to working geologists."

Kansas' Example

Individual repositories also are working to make their core and sample libraries more accessible to working geologists.

In Kansas, for example, the Kansas Geological Survey has cataloged its entire core repository on its Web site.

"You can go to our Web site and find all the core we have, so you can find out anything about any well in the state — all 300,000 of them," said Tim Carr, director of petroleum research for the Kansas Geological Survey.

The system is flexible and can be searched by section, township, range or by well name.

"We have taken the initiative to make our core accessible to increase its value," Carr continued. "Not many states are undertaking this type of project, and we are currently working to expand even further the value of the core by linking all our databases together."

Which means that now when you go to the Web site to search for a specific core, the program will also upload any logs, geologic tops or data analysis that might be available on that well.

"It's not just the preservation of the core that's important," Carr said. "All those rocks are meaningless if all they do is sit in some warehouse and gather dust. The data isn't valuable by itself — we have to make it valuable by making it accessible and meaningful."

In a state like Kansas much of the oil and gas activity centers on small independent firms working to milk the last bit of oil out of reservoirs, he said, and they need all the data they can get to design reservoir stimulation projects or design new fracs.

"Often core is the only historical data available on older fields," Carr said. "Logs may not have been good quality if they were even taken, so a piece of core in the middle of a field can be a valuable commodity.

"For example, we are working on a proposal for a fracture stimulation in a field discovered in 1942," he said. "There is very little information like logs on the field, but we do have six cores from those early wells. Those rocks will be very important in designing the fracture stimulation program and ultimately enhancing production from an old field."

More Work Remains

The AAPG Core and Sample Preservation Committee recently reviewed AAPG BULLETIN articles for 1979-1981 and 1990-1993, and discovered that about 40 percent of the authors relied on cores and samples as the principle source of data for their research.

"Even with advances in data analysis and manipulation, this reliance on rocks is expected to continue," the committee said.

The committee is doing its part to promote the usefulness of core preservation, including its strong support for the core poster session that was held at the AAPG annual meeting last year in Denver, in which about eight people presented a poster on their research and had the core available for examination.

"This poster session was designed to help more geologists understand that core is still a very valuable resource," Allison said. "The program was successful and attracted many convention goers, so we are planning to organize a similar session at the 2003 Salt Lake City annual meeting."

Unfortunately, financial constraints too often prevent state or regional repositories from making the core more accessible. Texas has been extremely successful in its efforts to preserve important core collections, but, according to George Bush with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, "Without funding we are unable to take advantage of new technologies that could increase the use of the data."

Texas is the premier example in the United States for preserving core and samples. Today the state's two repositories hold 614,000 boxes of core and 540,000 boxes of cuttings. Two major oil companies have contributed large core collections in the last 10 years:

  • In 1994 Shell donated 2.2 million linear feet of core and cuttings from 29 states to the state repository along with its warehouse and a $1.3 million endowment to maintain the core.
  • Last year Texas received 85,000 boxes of core from BP-Amoco.

Today additional funding is the critical issue for Texas' state repositories in Austin and Midland.

"Due to the lack of funding, we have not been able to enter the Shell cuttings data into our database," Bush said. "Although the cuttings are available to the public, their utility is greatly diminished by the fact that they are not in the database. We also have not completed our barcode project in either facility."

While there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done to make the core accessible and useful to working geologists, officials are overall pleased with the heightened awareness of preserving core.

"For example, the Kentucky and Ohio geological surveys have both built new core repositories in the last year or so, and that's significant at a time when many states are running out of room and have no funds to add additional space," Allison said. "Plus, some oil companies like Unocal and Chevron are retaining possession of their core libraries, but are making large quantities of that core available to the public.

"A couple of years ago many of us in the geological community were fearful that much of this core resource would be lost," she continued. "The message today is that we in fact did not lose a great deal of core. The states and companies realized the danger and made arrangements to preserve much of this resource.

"It hasn't been easy and there is still a great deal of work to do, but we have made significant progress," she continued.

"However, now that so much core has been preserved, it's our responsibility to find ways to make it useful because when it stops being data and just becomes stuff, that's a different kind of loss."