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Department of Earth Sciences - Forging Valuable Partnerships With Tech Industry

Author: Jan van Bever-Donker, Dirk Frei and Chris Smakinde

The Department of Earth Sciences comes from humble beginnings as a service course in Geology for Physical Geography students at first-year level in the Faculty of Arts.

(Published - 25 March 2019)

The Department of Earth Sciences comes from humble beginnings as a service course in Geology for Physical Geography students at first-year level in the Faculty of Arts. It offered Geology 2 for the first time in 1979 and became a department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences in 1980. Today it offers full degree courses from first-year up to PhD and Post-Doctoral level in Environmental and Water Science (EWS) and Applied Geology (APG) in a variety of programmes: (1) the study of groundwater and surface water as well as water resource management in EWS; and, (2) courses focussing on the exploration for and exploitation of mineral and hydrocarbon resources in APG.

UWC’s Department of Earth Sciences is the only Geology department in the country that offers degree programmes in Petroleum Geology (i.e., understanding the development of sediments that may host the elements to produce hydrocarbon resources in the form of gas or oil) from BSc to PhD, and Post-Doctoral level.

Petroleum Geology depends a great deal on the ability to study the earth remotely - in this case through various techniques to measure physical and structural properties of the rocks in drill holes. This enables the geologist to piece together a three-dimensional picture of the uppermost layers of the earth’s crust, in most cases offshore beneath the surface of the sea. Building these models requires a wide variety of specialised computer software which are costly to purchase (usually millions of Dollars) and are commonly beyond UWC’s budget. Fortunately most of the commercial companies that develop and maintain these software packages have recognised this problem and provide academic licenses, which are usually offered on a year-to-year basis.

Amongst the most important of these Petroleum Geology-related software packages that we currently use in Petroleum Geology teaching and research, based on generous donations, are:

A number of software packages provided by Schlumberger (www.slb.com), i.e., PETREL (the industry-standard for geophysical and geological interpretations); PETROMOD and TECHLOG (programmes used for basin analysis and evaluation of sedimentary formations), as well as ECLIPSE (software that is widely used for reservoir engineering). PETREL is probably the most widely used software package in the oil and gas industry because it has diverse geological and geophysical modules/workflows which enable the full integration of wells, cores and seismic data for the building of complex 3D geocellular models. The PETROMOD software package incorporates well information, gravity data, magnetics data, lithology data, geochemical data and regional depth maps to improve our understanding of the evolution of paleo crustal-scale events. These events include tectonic margin uplift, erosion and heatflow. In addition, PETROMOD is invaluable in the area of understanding the timing of hydrocarbon generation and the vectors of migration in sedimentary basins through simulation. The TECHLOG software package is very user-friendly software for the delineation of quantitative reservoirs parameters at well positions and the correlation of such regionally. It allows the application of neural networks for inter- and extrapolation of data. This information is vital in the estimation of the volume of recoverable oil-in-place from the reservoirs. The ECLIPSE software incorporates static reservoir modelling (often from PETREL), pressure data, temperature data and the production history of oil and gas wells in a basin to dynamically simulate and predict reservoir production performance over several years. It is critical to cash-flow projection and economic/investment decision-making processes in the oil and gas industry. The value of the various software packages generously made available by Schlumberger amounts to millions of USD.

Kingdom Suite provided by IHS Markit (https://ihsmarkit.com) is widely used in the Petroleum Industry for geological and seismic interpretations. Kingdom Suite software is a popular software package used for seismic interpretations and the incorporation of well data. The interpretation process is made more seamless as it allows the manipulation of seismic data parameters to improve the post-processing quality of seismic data. Kingdome Suite software, generously made available by HIS Markit, represents a value of approximately 1 million USD.

IP®Interactive Petrophysics provided by GeoEnergy (http://www.geoenergy-eg.com) is a software package that allows petrophysical evaluation of subsurface data. It enables seamless access to well and subsurface data and allows the integration of core- and log-data for the qualitative and quantitative characterisation of reservoirs at well position. This allows the delineation of cut-off values to isolate the pay and the non-pay zones within the reservoir section. The IP®Interactive Petrophysics software, generously made available by GeoEnergy, represents a value of approximately 1 million USD.

MOVE, is a suite of structural geology programmes provided by Petroleum Experts (www.petex.com). Structural Geology is of great importance in the Petroleum Industry as faults control the movement of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) and can also form hydrocarbon reservoirs. Furthermore, the movement of the rocks due to global tectonic processes may have produced folds in the rocks which we need to understand as they are of great importance in the movement and accumulation of hydrocarbons. The ten specialist programmes in the MOVE software suite provide the geologist with all the tools needed to perform the necessary structural analyses and interpretations, allows for the seamless integration of the results into other programmes (e.g., Petrel) and thus provides a complete overview of the deformation processes. This enables geologists to build the three-dimensional models that are pivotal for our understanding of potential hydrocarbon plays. Currently, we are the fortunate recipients of ten of these software packages, provided by Petroleum Experts Ltd, to the value of 1.53 million GBP.

The Department of Earth Sciences wishes to express its thanks and sincere appreciation to Petroleum Experts, GeoEnergy, IHS Markit and Schlumberger for their very generous donations that greatly benefit all our education and research programmes.

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