Immersive gaming technology is opening up the mysteries of the subsurface for oil and gas companies.

The industry has long battled the siloing of information. Geoscientists and drilling operations teams typically don’t have easy access to the same information, which can be a detriment to communication, production and safety.

Access is only half of the equation. Being able to understand or visualize 3D subsurface data can take operations to the next level.

More than three decades ago — around the time the original Sony Playstation was state-of-the-art — companies started devoting millions of dollars to creating real-time operations centers complete with what was then advanced 3D viewing capabilities.

Jide Ayangade
Jide Ayangade points out BaselineZ features on a tablet. (Source: Jennifer Pallanich/Hart Energy)

Users donned special glasses that allowed them to view 3D images on the screen, and they were able to discuss the visualized data with others in the room. However, these high-cost rooms were underused.

Now, virtual reality (VR), 3D visualization and related technologies have advanced enough that a drilling engineer in the field and a geosciences colleague in the office can concurrently view the same 3D subsurface data using gaming headsets, and their personalized 3D avatars can converse with each other while interacting with the 3D data visualization.

BaselineZ software was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between silos and improve 3D geological and reservoir modeling workflows. It originated when Microsoft first introduced the HoloLens headset in 2016.

“It was the perfect way to visualize complex subsurface data at scale, to see geology and to be able to present it to the stakeholders, the engineers, the management executives,” said Jide Ayangade, business development manager for Cravtive Technologies BV, the developers of the BaselineZ software. “We just wanted to have a way to view 3D data easily and effectively, have it be readily available at all times and for teams to be able to collaborate.”

The goal was to put the drilling engineer, the subsurface geoscientists and the management team all on the same baseline, he added.

A user with a mixed reality headset views a 3D geological model at scale complimenting the PC workstation. (Source: BaselineZ)
A user with a mixed reality headset views a 3D geological model at scale complimenting the PC workstation. (Source: BaselineZ)

The BaselineZ experience is akin to a 3D Teams or Zoom call (or multiplayer games), in which participants can see avatars of other participants. They are “virtually in the same place, but physically miles apart,” Ayangade said.

They can also position geological data, drilling data, core data and reports, making it possible to “visualize data in ways that it hasn’t been visualized before.”

One example, he said, is core data. Geoscientists who wish to study core data typically have to go to a physical core repository location, although there is an effort underway by many operators to digitalize core data.

“The headsets provide a way to immortalize this core data in a way that is readily accessible,” Ayangade said. The system, he added, makes it possible to visualize multiscale data across different domains in a very accessible manner.

BaselineZ has a seamless connection with Baker Hughes’ JewelSuite Ecosystem and SLB’s Petrel E&P Software Platform and direct data connector to standard data formats such as RESQML.

Ayangade said BaselineZ can be used for meetings, training or knowledge-sharing experiences in E&P operations, carbon capture and storage, geological storage, geothermal and mining. The software makes it possible to “very quickly and visually do a better resource assessment, potentially add more reserves and improve performance of drilling operations,” he said.

Seismic data, he said, includes attributes, traces and volumes while well data includes deviation, trajectory and logs.

“We’re not just putting in static 3D objects for visualization,” he said. “We put in the whole data, the whole volume into the immersive environment enabling true subsurface data experience at scale with interactions and data analytics possibilities.”

Customer interest in using the technology is partly driven by a desire to avoid risk, particularly in high-value, complex assets, he said.

“If you are drilling a high-value well into a geological formation that you can’t, as a subsurface specialist, communicate effectively to the drilling team, there’s a risk of missing the target,” he said. “What’s the cost of that? There’s a risk of going through a zone that might be over- or under-pressured, which may result in intervention costs.”

BaselineZ Collaborate AR View
A real-time collaboration meeting around geological model with two participants in person viewing model via mixed reality headset and handheld augmented reality device, while a third colleague joins the meeting as an avatar. (Source: BaselineZ)

BaselineZ has also drawn interest for use in geosteering to help keep wellbores in the zone and avoid collisions with other wellbores.

“We see true 3D visualization as being key to helping address some of that,” he said.

BaselineZ piggybacks on three main technologies — cloud computing, wireless connectivity and visualization hardware. The goal is to provide a joint 3D subsurface viewing experience, he said.

Even though gaming technology is familiar to some demographics in the oil industry, for some, working with the headsets is new, he said. BaselineZ uses the Unity 3D visualization engine, which is also used in gaming. Unity 3D engine enables cross-device capabilities and multi-user interactions, he said.

BaselineZ, which is available in the iOS, Android, Microsoft and Meta app stores, is licensed on a software as a service (SAAS) model. It allows users to move their subsurface data from their computers to the Microsoft Azure cloud, and once the data is there, any device with the BaselineZ app and access credentials can see the data.

“It doesn’t matter what device you’re using, whether it’s a head-mounted device or a mobile device, they can still view the same data,” he said.

Ayangade said the software is accessible to technical and non-technical skillsets.

“We’re seeing that this kind of visualization is helpful for bridging some of that divide,” he said.