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Emerald Gives Green Light to Oilfield Breakthrough

Pioneering software designed to help the oil and gas industry boost production and profits was developed with crucial input from Emerald.

The brainchild of Oxfordshire start-up Ridgeway Kite Software, the tool was set to deliver a big leap forward in the ability to simulate oil and gas reservoirs – benefiting engineers facing key decisions on how many wells to drill and exactly where to locate them. 

Harnessing Emerald, a facility developed by three SES members, helped enable rapid development at affordable cost and confirmed the software’s suitability for use on High Performance Computing (HPC) platforms throughout the oil and gas industry.

Fields of Vision

Economically vital and pivotal to meeting the world’s thirst for energy, the ferociously competitive oil and gas sector is under relentless pressure to optimise operations and squeeze more value from precious, finite fossil fuel resources. To push up production and boost bottom lines, companies are constantly striving to:

  • Maximise the amount of oil and gas that can be recovered from new or existing fields.
  • Optimise the number of wells drilled while maximising Net Present Value.

But what is the scale and shape of an underground deposit and how will this affect plans for accessing and extracting it? When dealing with everything from mature oil and gas fields to unconventional resources such as shale oil, the challenge for reservoir engineers is to build a reliable picture of subsurface geometry and properties, as well as parameters such as pressure and flow rate.

Simulation software is a key component in their toolkit. The need to keep improving its speed, accuracy and detail never decreases; nor does the potential to harness state-of-the-art computing hardware to help the modelling process.

This is the starting point for Harwell-based reservoir engineering specialists Ridgeway Kite Software. “Our goal is to take oil and gas reservoir simulation to the next level,” says Garf Bowen, who is directing technical development of ground-breaking software designed to do precisely that. “That’s required a fundamental rethink of how simulation software is developed and used.”

A New Simulation Solution

Founded in 2013, this small company has a big vision for the next generation of reservoir simulation software. Tackling the issue from the perspective of the technical challenges and commercial opportunities facing industry players it is already working closely with, such as Maersk Oil, Middle East oil companies and US shale operators, Ridgeway Kite’s approach has two primary drivers:

  • The need to keep pace with increasingly powerful computing architectures: This means ensuring that the software developed by the company can exploit current and future developments in the sphere of ‘massive parallelism’, where a large number of processors perform coordinated calculations simultaneously.
  • The need to provide the industry with an all-in-one simulation solution: The key is to eliminate the requirement to run different models thousands of times and then combine results together, and instead develop a single solution that models processes both below the surface and above it (e.g. separation of extracts into oil, gas and water).

“Specifically, our focus is on unlocking the power and speed offered by Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)”, says Bowen. “These offer huge advantages over traditional computing processors in terms of delivering higher-resolution simulations as well as multiple realisations where different parameters are adjusted to take uncertainties into account. GPUs can be challenging to exploit effectively, so we started with a blank sheet and built up a solution where massive parallelism could be accommodated in every single piece of code.”

The company needed to use a GPU machine that would accelerate the process of developing and testing its new software while also demonstrating its ability to run on platforms of any scale. “In most cases, the software will be run by oil and gas companies using their own in-house HPC facilities,” Garf Bowen explains. “So it was essential to demonstrate our solution’s flexibility to scale to top-level architectures when running different types of model.”

Enter Emerald

Ridgeway Kite has its own small GPU machine, but this does not deliver the large-scale code testing and benchmarking capabilities needed. The company also wanted a more affordable option than hiring publicly available HPC resources over the internet. So they applied for free access to Emerald, located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on the Harwell site.

Using Emerald has saved us time, energy and money – critical for a fledgling business like ours

Garf Bowen, Technical Director, Ridgeway Kite Software

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and awarded to SES, Emerald is equipped with the latest NVIDIA chips and represents the most powerful GPU-based supercomputer anywhere in the UK. Ridgeway Kite was granted access as part of STFC’s time allocation and typically used one or two GPUs, each containing 2000 processorettes, on a daily basis over a period of several weeks.

“It’s a very grown-up machine,” Garf Bowen comments. “It’s well-managed and its credibility has added another dimension to our offering by helping to give us the green light to take the software to market and by giving industry the confidence to put their trust in us. Emerald has saved us time, energy and money – critical for a fledgling business like ours.”

Looking ahead, the company is keen to continue exploiting Emerald as it emerges from its start-up phase, developing its client base and building revenues. “The demand for larger, more detailed simulation models will keep evolving,” concludes Bowen. “For our firm, centred on providing smarter, sharper reservoir simulation for the oil and gas sector wherever in the world companies are operating, a facility like Emerald is exactly what’s needed. The benefits will be felt not only here at Ridgeway Kite but ultimately, through our software, across the industry.”

Image 1:

Example of a 3D reservoir model.

Image 2:

Total fluid production from history-matching runs.


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Profile picture - Garf Bowen

Garf Bowen

Technical Director, Ridgeway Kite Software