Will BP’s New Supercomputer Make Exploration Better?

BP Pictures

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This week BP (NYSE:BPofficially opened its new computing centre in Houston, claiming that it is the world’s largest supercomputer being used for commercial research.

In recent years supercomputers have become vital in the discovery of some huge oil fields, and competition in the oil exploration and development market has become linked to the computing power behind a company. Keith Gray, BP’s manager of high performance computing, stated that “this is a facility that other nerds are going to be quite jealous of.”

The centre will have a total processing power of 2.2 petaflops, enough to make 2,200 trillion calculations a second; halving the time that it takes BP to process data from seismic surveys; 1000 terabytes of memory; and 23.5 petabytes of disk space. Jackie Mutschler, the head of upstream technology for BP, said that “if you want to drill the best well possible, make the best business decision, you want to get that data as quickly as you can and you want it to be high quality.”

Supercomputers help geophysicists to analyse seismic data faster and more accurately, allowing them to form better predictions for oil reserve locations and volumes. The greater processing power has even allowed seismic data to offer information on underground areas previously invisible to scientific models.

Many of the largest discoveries made in the Gulf of Mexico, such as BP’s Thunder Horse, Mad Dog, and Atlantis fields, would have been impossible without a supercomputer. John Etgen, a BP advisor for seismic imaging, explained that “it allows us to find reserves that we otherwise couldn’t find.”

Gray said that “computing is part of the race. We’ve got to be learning from the best in the industry to win our race.” With this in mind BP turned to technology industry leaders in Silicon Valley for advice and guidance on how to boost their computing power in the most effective way possible. HP (NYSE:HPQ) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) helped to develop the processing capabilities at the new centre, part of a $100 million, five year planned investment in oil and gas exploration.

BP also spoke to other companies that use huge computers, such as Facebook, to discuss innovative methods of cooling. Thanks to several energy efficient techniques to cool the processors, BP’s new centre uses 30 percent less energy than its old one. Meaning that, unusually for a large scale computing centre, the majority of the power used goes to running the computers, not the cooling units.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

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