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Budding New Technologies: First, Take Care of the Science Please

Bill Riehl
Geologist Landmark Graphics, Aberdeen, Scotland

Any look at the Explorer will illustrate that there is technology “to burn”. This paper is a cautionary note warning that the allure of the technology is potentially dangerous. We still need to understand the underlying science and commercial issues. The author will focus on the general issue of making old fashioned maps, but the principle can be carried into seismic interpretation, processing, petrophysical interpretation, reservoir engineering, et al. The message: understand what you are trying to accomplish and how things work. Then consider tools to support your work.

A great deal of oil has been found using maps. Aside from the obvious geographical, geoscience or engineering information contained on good maps, as we look back on the mapping process, we discover that there were subtle other benefits. Not the least of these was the time for reflection and analysis of the emerging picture. In the rush for efficiency, cycle time reduction and productivity we risk losing that value. A second benefit involves the collective decision-making process. Prospect review teams all generally understood the map. It was a common and understood display. Not always so with a fancy 3D image suspended before our eyes in a Visualization Room. As our technological “solutions” get more complex this common understanding of what is hanging on the digital wall fades. A third issue is associated with how images are made. On the map, the interpreter had to understand every line, data point and element of interpretation. The interpreter had to know how to do “it”. We often lack the understanding of how the new tools do what they do and this is to our peril. Map making (the old way) forced a kind of responsibility and authority on the map-maker.

This author confesses to being a relative old-timer with a long history first as a Gulf Coast pencil and paper guy and now a European purveyor of this very same fancy technology. Young people (sadly not enough of them) who join our business are more than capable with the technology but are often blinded by its bright images and seduced into seeing these tools as “solutions”. Even mature interpreters are sometimes beguiled by the digital image without examining the basics of the craft that has preserved them. A revisit to first principles is often called for but too easy to pass by on your way to the keyboard and mouse. Don’t!