Seismic modeling and reservoir simulations come to the TeraGrid, improving two workhorses of the oil industry.

Oil prospecting used to rely on hunches as much as anything else. Where to explore? Luck might land you a spot where oil was seeping from the ground. Where to set up the wells, pumps, and other equipment? There were some rules of thumb to fall back on. How to manage production? Perhaps you'd check the site's current performance, compare it to past wells' behavior, and then go by instinct.

Nowadays, however, a golden gut isn't worth what it used to be.

"Twenty or 30 years ago, people started to wonder how to get more from their wells," says Wolfgang Bangerth, a postdoc at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Subsurface Modeling. "They began to wonder, 'What are the clever ways to do this?'"

Some of these more clever ways are newer techniques in drilling and production. Companies can now drill horizontally and sink wells that branch in multiple directions. They can shut down sections of their wells. Pumps, which force oil toward wells, can be run at different rates and on varying schedules.

Companies also need to choose ideal places for this equipment and to surmise the geological features of the ground beneath it. That's where people like Bangerth and his collaborators come in. Using TeraGrid resources, a multidisciplinary team from UT, The Ohio State University, and Rutgers University is at work on software tools that improve companies' oil reservoir management. The tools allow them to better exploit existing reservoirs, find new reservoirs, and minimize drilling's adverse environmental impact.

"Reservoir models, which help guide production strategies, and seismic imaging, used to determine subsurface properties, are two workhorses of the oil industry," Bangerth says.

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Visualization of oil reservoir simulation. Pumps, represented by asterisks, push oil toward wells, represented by small white circles, that draw oil from the ground. Blue areas indicate areas of high water concentration. Brown areas indicate areas of high oil concentration.