Few folks would think video games have anything in common with seismic imaging.
Yet a gaming chip is at the heart of Repsol YPF’s new proprietary technology designed to elevate seismic imaging to a whole new level of refinement.
In fact, the chip providing the punch to accomplish this just happens to be the same one used in the Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles.
The multi-cell processor is powering the next generation of high performance computers needed to handle the new seismic imaging algorithms required to succeed in the highly competitive business of subsalt exploration, particularly in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico with its ever growing volumes of seismic data.
Officially dubbed Kaleidoscope, the Repsol project dedicated to developing this innovative technology had the benefit of input from a consortium comprised of representatives from industry, academia and non-industry business entity IBM.
“The idea for Kaleidoscope is to look at the same seismic data available to all companies, but completely from a new perspective,” said Francisco Ortigosa, director of geophysics at Repsol YPF.
To get there, the company veered off the usual path.
“Traditionally in industry, research is made on the algorithms with the thought that someone will provide the hardware needed,” Ortigosa said. “We decided we would grab the bull by the horns and develop the hardware platform at the same time as developing the algorithms – and this approach proved very successful.”
It was determined four specific characteristics were essential to the processor:
Ortigosa noted that after evaluating different platforms, they realized that the cell processor developed by Sony, IBM and Toshiba that’s used in the PlayStation 3 and other consumer electronics fulfilled those four requirements.
He noted also that the chip is basically designed for real time response.
The decision to use the chip led to assembly of a powerful, physically small supercomputer containing 600 of the processors and packing a mega punch equivalent to 10,000 PCs.
“IBM manufactured the chips and tailored the supercomputer to our requirements and completely tailored it for the kind of algorithms we’re running,” Ortigosa said. “This computer is unique in its own species.”
Repsol has been using this advanced tool successfully for the past two years to process seismic data from subsalt environments in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Brazil. The turnaround is exceptionally fast, but the data can be processed very quickly without any tradeoff of quality, according to Ortigosa.
“Kaleidoscope is able to ensure the maximum possible imaging quality regardless of the computer power required,” he said. “The economic value of Kaleidoscope is that it gives better images leading to better decisions.
Even so, the current technology is only one component of what’s to come.
Repsol kicked off its Phoenix project at the end of 2009, taking what they already have developed one order of magnitude faster and one better.
Kaleidoscope and Phoenix provide yet another example where the industry presses on to devise the technologies needed to continue exploring efficiently and economically in an array of challenging circumstances.
“It’s very interesting that every time we change the old plays, we have the talent to find new geophysical tools to image these (new) plays,” Ortigosa said.
This is no small feat given that the computing power to find oil in the deepwater subsalt Gulf of Mexico is three orders of magnitude higher than the computing power needed in the 1980s and 1990s on the shallow water shelf.
“In the Gulf in the ’80s, pre-stack time migration was good enough for shallow water shelf exploration,” Ortigosa said. “Then we went deeper, working with the salt flanks, and the standard algorithm used was the Kirchhoff equation.
“Moving even deeper and below the salt, where Kirchhoff couldn’t see, we had to develop wave equation migration,” he said. “This was only possible because of PC Linux clusters.
“Now because of changing geological plays, we had to develop reverse time migration, or RTM,” he noted. “But RTM requires computing power an order of magnitude higher than wave migration.
“It’s easy to see how computing power and imaging algorithms align in the Gulf of Mexico,” Ortigosa added.
“New plays are coming, and for these we don’t have the computer power,” he said. “That’s why Phoenix is coming to fill this gap.
“In the Gulf of Mexico now, it makes sense to invest in this kind of technology or research,” he noted, “because a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in the probability of success with technology makes it economic.”
Repsol, an integrated Spanish oil and gas company, has received considerable recognition for the technology coming out of the Kaleidoscope project.
The IEEE granted it an award for one of the five most innovative projects worldwide in 2008. Another of several awards came in December 2009 when the company received the Platt Energy Award for commercial technology of the year.