Accelerating decisions for finding oil

The Smith Institute helped Schlumberger to access expertise and increase the power of its products.

The problem

Schlumberger presented several problems to the Smith Institute. One problem involved accelerating the decisions required to map accurately oil reservoirs beneath the seabed. Large undersea oilfields comprise underground reservoirs connected by surface pipe networks, linked to refineries. To operate oilfields at their maximum value requires accurate models of those reservoirs. These are based on seismic surveys, using seismic sensors dragged across the water behind large ships to capture sound waves as they bounce back from the seabed. The ships have to snake across the water, covering as much of a specific area as possible in the shortest amount of time, whilst gathering the most data. Decisions about where and how to turn the ships to get round in a minimum arc are critical and must be made quickly but correctly. The aim is to straighten out the sensors as quickly as possible. These decisions are currently supported by mathematical equations but they can be complex as they take into account unpredictable factors including currents and wind speed and this slows down decision making. Schlumberger wanted to simplify these equations to allow quicker decisions without reducing the accuracy of the seismic surveys. Attendees at the in-house Study Group suggested modifications to the existing models to speed up the time taken to achieve the optimum turn. The ideas offered Schlumberger new avenues to investigate and helped it significantly improve the speed at which calculations can be made and decisions taken.

The solution

The Smith Institute helped Schlumberger host in-house Study Groups where staff worked with academics to apply mathematics to industrial challenges. At least four of the problems studied at these summits have resulted in further research by Schlumberger-sponsored PhD students. Schlumberger provided the challenges. The Institute packaged them, invited academics and reported the outcomes.

The benefit

By working with the Smith Institute, Schlumberger has harnessed the knowledge of Europe’s most accomplished mathematicians. This has helped it meet new challenges in the oil industry and increase the power of some of Schlumberger’s most popular products.

The Institute is an engine for these events. It widens the bandwidth between industry and academia and ensures there are real deliverables.

"Throughout our history Schlumberger has placed a strong emphasis on the mathematics which underpins many of our services.  Firm mathematical foundations allow us to bring to our customers innovative new technologies that help improve reservoir performance and mitigate technical risk."

Mike SheppardSchlumberger Fellow and advisor to the Chief Scientist at Schlumberger