Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

MIT uses math to find oil

16.08.2006
Mathematical procedures developed at MIT may soon help energy companies locate new sources of oil many kilometers underground.

Working closely with teams at Shell International Exploration and Production, the MIT researchers have demonstrated the power of one of their procedures by mapping out an underground oil-trapping geological formation based on limited seismic data.

To keep up with the world's growing demand for oil, energy companies must drill deeper and look harder in increasingly complex geological structures. But locating such structures many kilometers beneath the Earth's surface is difficult, and getting it right is important. Companies can spend as much as $100 million drilling a single well -- a costly mistake if it comes up dry.

To find promising underground sites, companies collect seismic data by using air guns or explosives to send shock waves deep into the ground. How the waves are reflected by underground layers provides information that sophisticated signal-processing techniques can turn into 3-D images of the subsurface. But identifying promising geological structures within those images is difficult.

The Stochastic Systems Group (SSG) at MIT's Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems specializes in designing mathematical procedures, or algorithms, that can quickly analyze complex images. Could some of their algorithms be useful in the oil exploration business? Professor Alan S. Willsky, director of the SSG, and Shell researchers started a project to find out.

Obvious candidates were procedures for defining a continuous surface from a limited set of data points. As a first target, the researchers selected the task of mapping out "top salt," that is, the surface along the tops of contiguous salt domes. Salt domes form deep underground when heavy layers of sediment deposit on salt beds from ancient oceans. The salt extrudes upward like globules in a lava lamp, in the process tilting and blocking off sedimentary layers and creating traps where oil can accumulate.

To generate a map, industrial experts pick points in the onscreen images that they think may be the top salt, and the computer fills in the gaps. By changing their "picks," the experts produce multiple maps for consideration, each one covering several kilometers in length, width and relief. Generating those maps quickly is critical.

The MIT algorithms are well suited to the task. The key is how the different picks relate to one another. "There are statistical relationships between things that happen at different points in space," said Willsky, the Edwin Sibley Webster Professor of Electrical Engineering. "You don't expect properties of the rock at one point to be completely independent of the properties a meter away."

Given a set of picks, the MIT algorithms automatically define statistical relationships from one pick to the next and fill in the missing points based on those relationships. Moreover, they calculate the uncertainty associated with each generated point.

But identifying the top salt is only the beginning. The company also needs to see the shapes of geologic formations to guide their drilling. With a salt dome, for example, the company needs to drill into the adjacent sedimentary layers but not into the salt itself because it will contain no oil.

Again, the MIT researchers have algorithms that can help -- algorithms that they have been using to help medical researchers interpret data from MRIs and CT scans.

Key to the success of this research is constant interaction between the MIT and Shell researchers. "We don't just develop tools and throw them over the transom to Shell," said Willsky. "We're constantly looking over each other's shoulders" to find areas of mutual interest and potential benefit. Teaching each other about their separate areas of expertise is also critical. For Shell, the challenge is to understand MIT's "modern mathematical tools" well enough to build them into the company's existing analytical methods.

This research was funded by Shell International Exploration and Production through MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Linear potentiometer LRW2/3 - Maximum precision with many measuring points
17.05.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH

nachricht First flat lens for immersion microscope provides alternative to centuries-old technique
17.05.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>