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Most of the money spent by the petroleum industry in exploring for oil is used for geophysics (the physics of the earth, including seismology, gravity and magnetics, among others). Geophysics provides techniques for imaging the subsurface (seeing below the ground) before drilling, and this can be key in avoiding “dry holes.”

Not realized by the general public is that most of the holes drilled are dry and do not yield commercial oil or gas. Locating an oil and gas reservoir (a place where a great amount of oil and gas has collected) and drilling oil and gas wells is very expensive (offshore wells can cost $15 million or more; in fact, some offshore platforms cost more than $4 billion). That’s why it is so important to utilize state-of-the art exploration and production technologies to keep costs as low as possible.

ConocoPhillips, for example, deploys one of the world’s largest and fastest supercomputers, a Cray T3D/1350 system, to process seismic data and to produce accurate images that identify the best location and trajectory for drilling wells.

Computer-created view of underground structure.In complex regions like the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico, advanced 3-D seismic imaging (producing an image in three dimensions–width, length and depth–of an area beneath the earth’s surface or ocean floor) has played a key role in locating wells and in reducing finding and development costs. With the aid of its supercomputer, ConocoPhillips has overcome some of the world’s most difficult seismic and engineering challenges in hostile environments.

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