Pangea, high-performance computing for 3D oilfield modeling

Oil and gas exploration and development require more technological sophistication, knowledge and precision than ever. Analyzing subsurface structures is even more critical to optimize capital expenditure, schedules and production. To assess risks better and gain a competitive edge, Total has installed one of the world's most powerful supercomputers in Pau, France. The days when all you had to do was drill a well in the ground and watch the oil gush up are gone. As global reserves stand today, the industry is being forced to deploy more technology and more resources to find oil and gas reservoirs with the potential to be developed, driving up capital expenditure. Total's Better Energy strategy aims to give as many people as possible access to energy. Among other things, that means optimizing the overall process of commercial oil and gas production. So the first step — locating reserves and calculating their potential and volume — is now a crucial one that cannot succeed without reliable decision-making tools.

Converting data to images

Seismic surveys are the method used to spot potential reservoirs. The process works somewhat like ultrasound. Waves are generated onshore by thumper trucks and offshore by compressed air or water guns. The waves are reflected back from the various subsurface geological layers and acoustic arrays collect and record the data. The huge volumes of data gathered are converted to images using specific processing methods. Images that were once two-dimensional now come in 3D. By borrowing animation techniques, specialists can even analyze several 3D images over time, to generate data about oil and gas flows and changes in the reservoir's production.

But subsurface imaging is a data glutton. It processes more and more raw data into visuals of higher quality, making it easier to decide whether or not to drill. Such quality comes at a cost — it can take several months to model images!

80,000 computers on the job!

That's the computing power of Pangea, the supercomputer used for high performance computing (HPC) that Total acquired in 2013.Manufactured by Silicon Graphics International (SGI), it was custom-designed to Total's specifications. It is housed in the CSTJF engineering and research center operated by Total's Exploration & Production segment in Pau. Some 35 million euros ($39 million) was spent in early 2016 to boost its computing capacity to 6.7 petaflops - 6.7 quadrillion floating point operations ("flops") per second - the equivalent of more than 80,000 laptops combined. Its storage capacity was upped to 26 petabytes, or six million DVDs. It's the 11th most powerful computer and the largest industrial supercomputer** in the world.

Technical specs aside, Pangea's performance is astounding. Calculation and image processing speeds have risen 15-fold. What used to take two weeks can be done in a day and a task requiring several months can be wrapped up in just a few days.

Besides processor speed, subsurface imaging precision has also been enhanced. Sharper images yield more detailed data about the reservoirs and help improve their development and production. Quantity meets quality.

Ever more complex algorithms

Pangea's intelligence is also a function of the computational formulas it employs. More commonly referred to as algorithmsthese repeated operations are continually being tweaked to minimize approximations and produce ever more reliable results. Whether to create a precise subsurface image or to simulate long-term scenarios for reservoir changes, Total's research teams have developed next-generation algorithms that get the most from the supercomputer.

Enrico Zamboni, Seismic Imaging Manager at Total, explains. "Most of our time is spent on visibility, that is, accurately imaging the reservoir we've collected data on. Then we have to pin down its exact position and geometry. By being able to produce ever finer details, we get more precise information about the reservoir and reduce uncertainty and failure rates."

The resulting computing power and precision shorten survey campaigns and optimize development and production. It takes some of the risk out of the equation. Arnaud Breuillac, President, Total Exploration and Production, agrees: "In the age of big data, state-of-the-art, data-intensive computing is a competitive advantage. This power will help improve performance and reduce costs."

Pangea heats the CSTJF's buildings

Pangea guzzles power, using 4.5 MW, or as much as a town of 8,000 to 10,000 people. We've all felt the heat from a laptop on our knees as we play a movie or work on a mega-file. The same thing happens with Pangea — only multiplied 80,000 times over! All of the heat given off by the HPC is now recovered to heat the entire Pau center.

Now that's what you'd call smart heat!

Migration: A geophysical algorithm to construct a seismic cube.

Cube: An image of the different subsurface geological layers.

Tomography: A method used to build images of the subsurface.

Reservoir: An oil or natural gas deposit.

Pore: A microcavity in rock containing oil.

This page was paid for by Total. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.