Transforming the future of oil

Santiago Quesada

March 1, 2015

Repsol’s Director for Exploration and Production Technology Santiago Quesada discusses the company’s partnership with IBM aimed at developing cognitive technologies for better decision-making.

As demand for oil and gas increases and oil plays mature, operators are faced with the challenge of having to look deeper and further offshore. In the face of increasing uncertainty and geological risk, oil and gas companies are turn­ing to advanced cognitive computing technology to aid in their search of new oilfields.

Until recently, geoscientists have been tasked with mostly man­ually reading and extracting information from enormous amounts of data retrieved from their exploration and production activities, including journal papers and baseline reports as well as seismic imaging data and reservoir models, wells and facilities.

Recognizing the need for an intelligent solution that could drive improvements in exploration and production, Repsol and IBM, building on their existing collaboration, recently teamed up to develop cognitive technologies that can analyze subsurface data on geology and crude reserves and, ultimately, help oil and gas companies to make better informed decisions based on that data. As a result, these companies will be able to maximize access to better exploration areas, increase the productivity of maturing oil fields and their value and mitigate environmental risks.

Based at IBM’s Cognitive Environments Laboratory (CEL) in New York, the researchers will work on two prototype appli­cations which are specifically designed to increase Repsol’s strategic decision-making process in the optimization of oil reservoir production and in the acquisition of new exploration areas and production fields, both onshore and offshore. The first application will help Repsol to size up exploration blocks and the second will support the company in optimizing its strategy for the development of fields.

Repsol is making an initial investment of US$15 million to $20 million in order to develop both applications with early results expected for late 2015. The team will work together in New York and Repsol’s Technology Centre in Madrid, with each company committing six to 10 employees to develop the technology.

The cognitive computing technology infrastructure has been designed specifically to extract all the relevant information from complex databases and inter­act with people across various devices and physical spaces. For example, the technology can process questions asked by humans in natural language and sifts through information to respond with the most likely answers. This, in turn, enables individuals and teams to make better decisions by overcoming cognitive limitations posed by big data.

In addition to spoken word, scientists in the CEL will also experiment with a combination of traditional and new inter­faces which are based upon gestures, robotics and advanced visualization and navigation techniques. Using these tech­niques, researchers can leverage sophisticated models of human characteristics, preferences and biases that may be present in the decision-making process. The technology will also intro­duce new real-time factors which should be considered such as current news events around economic instability, political unrest and natural disasters.

These tools are not intended to replace the human elements and activity that takes place in oil and gas exploration and production, but to assist them in building more fluid conceptual and geological models, highlighting the impact of potential risks and uncertainty, visualizing trade-offs and exploring what-if scenarios.

The new applications developed by Repsol and IBM will improve the way oil companies visualize and develop explora­tion and production activities, enabling them to look for oil deeper and further offshore and in more remote areas. In addi­tion, it is envisioned that companies from other sectors will set up their own CELs to make better informed decisions and stay ahead of the curve.

Santiago Quesada serves as director of exploration and production technology at the Repsol Technology Centre. He oversees centers in Madrid, Houston and Rio de Janeiro. Quesada joined Repsol in 1998 as a specialist in basin and petroleum system analysis in Madrid. Thereafter, he worked for the company in Argentina as explora­tion manager before returning to Spain in 2008 as manager of quality assurance of exploration projects. He was appointed technical director of exploration geology in 2012 before assuming his current position in 2013. Quesada received his Master of Science in geology from the University of the Basque Country.