The Role of Visualization in Resource Exploration and Development

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Geoffrey A. Dorn
BP Center for Visualization, University of Colorado

Thursday, March 14th, 2002 – 10:30 AM MST
Telus Convention Centre - 8th Ave SE, Calgary


The rapidly expanding application of visualization technology has the potential to fundamentally change the way companies conduct business in the oil and gas industry. Visualization technology has been used for years in exploration and development. Visualization is simply the graphical presentation of data in an intuitive fashion to reveal information. A bar chart, line graph, seismic section or reservoir map are all visualizations of data. Over the last five to ten years, the technology of visualization has advanced more and more rapidly, with improving resolution, interactivity and display size. The last three years have seen the growing acceptance of large collaborative and immersive visualization system in the upstream portion of the oil and gas industry.

Visualization on smaller desktop display systems focuses on discipline or "domain" specific applications (e.g. 3-D visualization applications used for 3-D seismic interpretation). These applications have demonstrated value through improving the accuracy, completeness and, to some extent, the efficiency of interpretation and reservoir modeling. These domain specific applications, however, provide only limited integration between disciplines, and little opportunity for collaboration between domain experts in front of the small screen.

The large collaborative semi-immersive and immersive visualization systems have the potential for broad application across the entire range of business, from the upstream to the downstream. These larger display systems, including large flat screens, curved screen theaters and fully immersive CAVEStm hold the potential to revolutionize the way business in conducted. These large systems facilitate the integration of data, and the integration and collaboration between members of interdisciplinary teams. In it broadest sense, the term "immersive visualization" is used to describe not just the graphical display of data in 3-D, but the use of a wide variety of technologies to provide input to the user through a number of senses. The goal of this technology is to present the data or the environment to the user in an intuitive fashion and allow natural interaction with the data. In addition to graphical displays, the technologies involved include tracking systems, 3-D audio imaging and haptic systems. Tracking systems are used to track the user's viewing position and to appropriately update the display, or to track their hand position to enable interaction with the data in 3-D. Audio imaging in 3-D can be used in a variety of ways, including to presenting additional data or information to the user, or reinforcing some component of the visual display. Haptic systems incorporate the sense of touch into the human/data interaction.

The range of possible applications to business in the oil and gas industry includes data acquisition planning, data processing and interpretation, prospect generation and evaluation, prospect review meetings, integrated drilling planning, platform optimization, facilities design, maintenance and operation, training, virtual integrated teams, virtual specialists and telepresence in hostile environments. As this technology matures, and as it is applied broadly to both the upstream and downstream business, it will produce tremendous value through the reduction of cycle times and risk.


Geoffrey Dorn received his B.S. in astrophysics (1973) and his M.S. in Geology (1978) from the University of New Mexico, and a PhD in exploration geophysics (Engineering Geoscience, 1980) from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined ARCO's Exploration and Production Technology in the fall of 1980, spending his first two years in seismic acquisition research.

From 1982 - 1987 he directed ARCO's interactive interpretation research group, leaving management in January of 1987 to pursue technical research interests in 3-D seismic horizon and volume attribute analysis, and 3-D visualization. In 1993 Geoff was named an ARCO Research Advisor for his contributions in 3-D seismic interpretation and visualization research and technical service. He returned to management in 1997 to direct ARCO's Visualization Technology group. A member of the SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) Research Committee since 1990, he has helped organize numerous post-convention research committee workshops, was chairman of the 1993 SEG Summer Research Workshop on 3-D Seismology, and is a District Representative to the SEG. He has been chosen as the Spring 2002 SEG Distinguished Lecturer.

Following the donation from bp and Landmark that established the bp Center for Visualization, Dr. Dorn became Executive Director of this new research center at the University of Colorado. His interests include 3-D visualization, 3-D seismic interpretation, attribute analysis and geophysical reservoir characterization. He is an active member of the SEG, EAGE and AAPG.