IBM Applies Gaming Console Technology to the Oilpatch

Driven by the increasing demand and rising costs for energy worldwide, Repsol YPF and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center have announced research results using IBM supercomputers powered by the Cell Broadband Engine as the standard for future hydrocarbon exploration. The preliminary findings show IBM BladeCenter QS22 supercomputers, powered by the IBM PowerXCell 8i processor, enable searching for oil fields at greater depths up to six-times faster than conventional technology currently deployed by the oil and gas industry.

The IBM PowerXCell 8i, originally developed for next-generation gaming consoles, is a critical component to the development of a new class of seismic technology enabling Repsol to locate oil reserves buried some 30,000 feet (10,000 feet of water and then 20,000 more feet of seabed) below the Gulf of Mexico's surface. The U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service estimates the Gulf holds approximately 56 billion barrels of oil equivalent (oil and natural gas), which, at $130/barrel, would be worth over $7 trillion and would meet the entire U.S. demand for oil and gas for about five years.
Repsol and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center are using a process known as Reverse Time Migration (RTM), a sophisticated subsurface imaging tool accepted by the oil industry. It has proven essential for imaging areas of complex subsurface geological structure, such as the rich hydrocarbon provinces of the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Brazil and West Africa. These basins are the new frontiers in oil exploration, where significant oil reserves are present below thick masses of salt that have made seismic imaging difficult. But the new technology will accelerate and streamline oil and gas exploration in these promising regions by several orders of magnitude compared to current industry methods.

"Fidelity of the RTM images reduces the risks associated with oil exploration in these prolific but complex areas," said Francisco Ortigosa, director of Repsol’s Geophysics. "However, the universal use of this technology is limited by processing speed. The IBM PowerXCell 8i processor's unparalleled speed for the imaging algorithm allows extensive use of the technology. By speeding up seismic imaging, we foresee a revolution in exploration that will be comparable to the revolution in medical imaging technologies, such as MRIs, that today routinely yield detailed images from inside the body."

RTM is one of the key efforts driven by the work of the Kaleidoscope Project, which utilizes new models, algorithms and the BSC, also called the "MareNostrum," one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, which features IBM's latest processing technology.

"The high-speed communications capabilities of the new IBM PowerXCell 8i processor in the IBM BladeCenter QS22 can help companies create and run vastly improved visual, immersive, real-time simulations," said VP of IBM Systems & Technology Group Jim Comfort. "These simulations are already helping companies like Repsol make significant headway in hydrocarbon exploration by allowing them to locate energy reserves previously unknown. IBM has built a strong ecosystem around the new QS22 to address critical real-time analytic and imaging projects, and Repsol is a great example of a company reaping the benefits."