Saudi Aramco hopes to push the boundaries of exploration by creating and encouraging new technologies.
In its 2017 Annual Review, the company said it is pursuing the promise of “the fourth industrial revolution” through big data and supercomputing and investigations into nanotechnology applications.
The world’s leading producer of crude oil and condensate reported 332 billion barrels of oil equivalent in fields it operates. The company also reported the discovery of two new oil fields, Sakab and Zumul, and a gas reservoir, Jauf.
“Given scales of our reserves, even small percentage increases in recovery rates and production efficiency can significantly boost long-term supply,” the company reported.
Upstream research activities are performed primarily in-house, with support from SA’s Global Research Network research centers in Houston, Boston and Beijng and technology offices in Aberdeen, Scotland and Delft Netherlands.
Aramco also continued its series of iQuest forums this year, with experts traveling to Menlo Park, Calif., to meet with Silicon Valley experts and entrepreneurs on the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics in the upstream petroleum sector.
The forums are aimed at seeking out new ideas to enhance exploration and production.
“This initiative is supporting the company’s efforts to not only solve today’s operational industry challenges, but also help write the next chapter on energy sustainability,” the company reported.
“We are seeking out disruptive technologies that will take us further, that will truly result in a ‘quantum leap’ in upstream capabilities and efficiencies,” said Ali A. Al-Meshari, manager of SA’s Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center – Advanced Research Center, or “EXPEC ARC.”
The two-day iQuest forum included more than 70 participants. Representatives from EXPEC ARC, Aramco Services Co. and Aramco’s Houston research center conversed with Silicon Valley tech leaders – company owners, CEOs, scientists, investors and university professors – specializing in AI/machine learning, data analytics and computational methodologies. EXPEC ARC International Advisory Council members also attended along with SA-sponsored students.
“We see huge potential in the use of artificial intelligence to extract deeper value from the data we collect and store on our field operations. We are excited about the possibilities, to enhance our decision-making capabilities and break new ground,” Al-Meshari told the group.
Weichang Li, a petroleum engineering consultant at Aramco’s Houston research center, gave a presentation on the significant impact that AI/machine learning could have in the energy industry. He specifically illustrated opportunities where domain experts and computer scientists could work together to apply these new breakthroughs and improve, for example, seismic data processing, interpretation and well log analysis, production monitoring and optimization; drilling efficiency and risk mitigation, source rock characterization and crude oil assay analysis.
An Aramco Sun article noted that the invited Silicon Valley experts “generally agreed that the oil and gas industry has done an exceptional job collecting and storing data over the decades, but its value has not been fully optimized. Vast quantities of information have been captured and stored, they said, but these data sets are spread across numerous business spheres, operational areas and domains – and often not shared. This makes it virtually impossible to extract the deep value ‘hidden’ within the data without the application of AI/machine learning.”
More forums are planned.
“We want to continue the mission to seek out technological breakthroughs – both around the world and within our own research centers,” Al-Meshari said. “It’s important to develop these partnerships and create synergies that fortify Saudi Aramco’s important role as a global technology leader.”
Applying New Technologies in the Field
The Annual Review reported that in the last year, the company pursued advanced well completion technologies, artificial lift optimization and debottlenecking of production systems.
Unconventional gas exploration targeted Northern Arabia, South Ghawar area and Jafurah Basin east of Ghawar.
In the Red Sea, the company used an autonomous system deploying seismic nodes on seabed via reinforced armored rope, reducing the cost of 3-D seismic data acquisition in two blocks measuring 800 and 900 square-kilometers. The choice of location was informed by large scale hydrographic survey, a first for these waters. SA said the results are expected to help optimize field operations and facilities including rig movements, laying of pipeline and supply vessel routes.
The review said nanotechnology shows the potential to enable monitoring and analysis of reservoir performance – and possibly intervention – directly from within the reservoir.
“In 2017, we identified scalable formations of surface nanoparticles,” which were then set to be used in a single well chemical tracer field test this year,” the company reported.
The report also noted that by using cameras and sensors to document geological features, SA’s GeoDrone helps improves safety and accuracy of field data while reducing costs, since geologists can conduct virtual field trips from their desktops.
The company reported that it increased the power and speed of GigaPowers, its parallel oil and water enhanced reservoir simulator, and TeraPowers, its next-generation reservoir and basin simulator, to improve its computational modeling.
SA also developed GeoDrive, a next-generation, integrated seismic imaging platform that enables ultrahigh-resolution subsurface mapping and characterization, and tested the platform in collaboration with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
“Our geophysical expertise, integrated with the power of Shaheen II, a KAUST supercomputer, successfully produced a 3-D image of subsurface geologic layers at a record resolution of 7.5 meters. This capability will enhance our understanding of challenging subsurface environments and help optimize drilling for exploration and production,” the company said.
SA said its state-of-the-art Advanced Geosteering Center in Dhahran “enables real-time monitoring of drilling rigs hundreds of kilometers away to achieve precise, optimal well placement.”
Live drilling and downhole data are transmitted by satellite to the center, where teams of experts analyze the information to make real-time decisions. Positioning wells for maximum reservoir contact results in enhanced well productivity and lower development costs.
“In 2017, our geosteering program achieved 97-percent reservoir contact efficiency,” the company reported.
SA also is testing the use of seawater in hydraulic fracturing to reduce its use of fresh water. One field trial was completed last year and three more in 2018.