IBM has a long history of using technology to increase energy companies’ ability to find, extract, process and use oil. As far back as 1912, IBM added oil to its book of businesses when the Atlantic Refining Company (now British Petroleum) installed a tabulating system from C-T-R, IBM’s precursor company.
In 1938, IBM began working with companies in Venezuela, when Mene Grande Oil Company in Maracaibo received its first IBM machines through a new venture called C. A. Watson de Maquinas Comerciales—IBM’s operating name in that country. Since oil was first discovered in Venezuela, IBM has been there, providing technology and infrastructures.
IBM has provided the technology to many of the world’s largest petroleum and natural gas companies and oil- and gas-producing countries.
In 1988, IBM demonstrated the ability to seismically “prospect” and two-dimensionally map oil and gas reservoirs using an IBM ® 3090 VF Vector Multiprocessor. This breakthrough in computerized prospecting significantly changed the industry by helping to identify resources before drilling.
As technologies developed, energy companies applied them in a variety of ways to extract and use oil. Three-dimensional seismic modeling can help locate fields. Sensing technologies track oil flow, equipment and workers, and help improve safety. Oil tracking and mining activities can now be monitored and managed from multiple locations thanks to virtualization technologies such as cloud-based computing.
In 2004, IBM worked with Petrobras, one of the world’s largest oil companies, based in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Petrobras deployed a Linux ®-based grid composed of IBM eServer™ BladeCenter ® systems to speed deep-sea oil exploration in the state of Espirito Santo. This is the largest collection of BladeCenter servers implemented by IBM Brazil and one of the largest in Latin America.
Using the IBM PowerXCell™ 8i processor, originally developed for next-generation gaming consoles, IBM began work in 2008 with Repsol and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center in Spain to develop a new class of seismic technology. The process, known as reverse time migration (RTM), enabled Repsol to locate oil reserves buried some 30,000 feet—10,000 feet of water and then 20,000 more feet of seabed—below the Gulf of Mexico's surface. Through complex algorithms, a huge level of detailed seismic data can be translated into 3-D maps, which are then visually interpreted by teams of experts. With access to more detailed and fine-grained seismic images, Repsol can make more accurate and data-driven drilling decisions, substantially reducing the risk of running into dry holes associated with the Gulf of Mexico’s salt domes.
“We are at the cusp of a potentially radical change in the seismic imaging industry: Computational power is now available that could reduce imaging times from weeks and months to an hour or less. How would business processes change if imaging could be multiple times a day? How much more oil would be found? In order to get to achieve this game-changing, the industry will have to rethink its algorithms and how they are implemented. The precise and efficient flow of data will take center stage and the algorithms and hardware that enable that level of control will become critical.”
“Multicore Computing and the Future of Seismic Imaging,” presented at the 70th EAGE Conference & Exhibition, Rome, ItalyJune 9 - 12, 2008
“Smarter exploration means integrating and processing geophysical and other relevant data to develop 3-D models of reservoirs. It means finding previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves embedded beneath difficult terrain or the deepest ocean waters. Smarter production means capturing information about the volume and quality of oil and gas reservoirs before a new well is drilled. It means minimizing the drilling footprint and exploration risk while improving the safety and reliability of operations. A smarter model means the work changes, but so do the results.”
“Chemicals and Petroleum Industry Insights Series,” Pipeline & Gas JournalAugust 2008
"Fidelity of the RTM reduces the risks associated with oil exploration in these prolific but complex areas. However, the universal use of this technology is limited by processing speed. The IBM PowerXCell 8i processor's unparalleled speed for the imaging algorithm allows extensive use of the technology. By speeding up seismic imaging, we foresee a revolution in exploration that will be comparable to the revolution in medical imaging technologies, such as MRIs, that today routinely yield detailed images from inside the body."
“Spain-Based Repsol, Barcelona Supercomputing Center Use IBM Technology to Tap into New Frontiers of Oil Exploration,” IBM press releaseJuly 1, 2008
In 2010, Norway’s leading oil and gas company, Statoil, joined with IBM to pilot the IBM Integrated Information Framework to improve and optimize operational processes across the company. Statoil’s offshore platforms have long operated independently of one another, making it difficult for Statoil to standardize its processes and implement the same solutions across its approximately 40 facilities.
A key part of IBM’s mission was to bridge the gaps between different parts of Statoil’s operation so data and employee knowledge could be used independent of organizations, disciplines and geography. IBM created a common data integration architecture and is completing the integration platform implementation solution. IBM’s history in bringing technology to enable petroleum and natural gas providers and owners has provided invaluable discoveries and breakthroughs. These technologies have helped operations work smarter and more efficiently, minimize environmental impacts, and streamline and enhance processing and delivery.
Selected team members who contributed to this Icon of Progress:
- John Brantley General Manager of IBM Global Chemicals and Petroleum Industry
- Jon Stærkebye Director of IBM Chemicals and Petroleum in Europe, the Middle East and Russia
- Michael Perrone IBM Master Inventor and Manager, Multicore Computing Computational Sciences Center