Over the last decade, three-dimensional (3D) imaging/modeling of the subsurface through time have co-evolved and emerged as a major research focus of the petroleum industry. As petroleum becomes more difficult to find and reserves become more difficult to replace, petroleum system modeling has grown because it better quantifies the generation, migration, and entrapment of the remaining resource. Virtually all major oil companies and government and academic institutions recognize the need for 3D petroleum system models because they:
- Facilitate integration and visualization of geologic processes and communication with stakeholders
- Add value by converting static data to dynamic processed data and interpretations
- Help to reduce exploration risk and to highlight prospective exploration areas
- Archive data (data loss due to personnel attrition and reorganization is a major cost).
3D petroleum system modeling is rapidly growing as a tool to better understand the generation, migration, accumulation, and preservation of petroleum. The approach can be used to predict the pod of active source rock, thermal maturity of the source rock, and the timing of petroleum generation. It is currently less successful as a means to predict volumes of trapped petroleum, their detailed compositions, or the effects of post-generation processes. However, solutions to these questions could have major impact on domestic and world economies. 3D modeling is a tool that will continue to attract new users because of the potential for high-impact solutions to these problems with respect to exploration, development, and assessment.
Major applications of 3D geologic models include developing predictive exploration and reservoir models, integrating sequence stratigraphy and assessment units, predicting the extent and timing of petroleum generation in source rocks, pore pressure prediction, structural deformation that alters basin architecture, migration patterns, locations of potential traps and accumulations, and analysis of risk based on different geologic, geochemical, or fluid-flow scenarios. Thus, 3D geologic models can provide a basic geoscience framework to conduct and record a wide variety of applied and basic research.
In addition, petroleum system models can serve as evolving databases that provide surface and subsurface geologic information for practical research needs. They allow users to figuratively look within the earth to examine data, appraise reliability of geologic data and concepts, models, or geochemical input, and extract needed information.