Oil & Natural Gas Projects
Exploration and Production Technologies
Risk Reduction with a Fuzzy Expert Exploration Tool
Expert systems are artificial intelligence tools that store and implement expert
opinions and methods of analysis. The goal of this project was to test and prove
the ability of expert systems to enhance the exploration process and to allow
the rapid, simultaneous evaluation of numerous prospects. The project was designed
to create two case-study fuzzy expert exploration (FEE) tools, one for the Lower
Brushy Canyon formation of the New Mexico portion of the Delaware Basin, and
the second for the Siluro-Devonian carbonates of southeast New Mexico.
Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC)
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
The stratigraphic Brushy Canyon play of the Delaware Basin of southeast New
Mexico was the initial target for the project. Analysis of 60,478 forty-acre
potential drilling sites by the expert system identified about 212 million barrels
of new recoverable reserves in 4,481 undrilled prospects. Reduced finding costs
resulting from use of the system make the pool an enticing play for both new
exploration and recompletions.
The structurally complex Siluro-Devonian Carbonates of Southeast New Mexico
was the second target of this project. These deep, often prolific reservoirs
typically require expensive 3-D seismic data as a basis for exploration. The
expert system has identified about 1,500 sections, out of an area of more than
15,000 square miles, with optimal production potential. The analysis can significantly
reduce exploration costs and allow more-focused seismic surveys, therefore reducing
The FEE tools enable a more efficient use of scarce exploration funds, thus
contributing to efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil and provide lower
product prices for consumers.
Incomplete or sparse data such as geologic or formation characteristics introduce
a high level of risk for oil exploration and development projects. Expert systems
developed and used in several disciplines and industries have demonstrated beneficial
results when working with sparse data. Tools of this type can be beneficial
in many regions of the United States by enabling risk reduction in oil and gas
prospecting as well as decreased prospecting and development costs. In today's
oil industry environment, many smaller exploration companies lack the resources
of a pool of expert exploration personnel. Downsizing, volatile oil prices,
and scarcity of domestic exploration funds also have affected larger companies,
and will, with time, affect the end users of oil industry products in the United
States as reserves are depleted.
To accomplish the development of these expert systems, massive databases of
public-domain information for both plays were compiled, and additional geological,
engineering, and production data were generated during the course of the project,
creating a knowledge base for both formations. Models employing human expert
knowledge of each play were developed, along with intuitive graphical user interfaces
and fuzzy inference engines to process those expert rules, resulting in fast,
multi-tiered systems that can be customized for personal or corporate philosophies
while maintaining the integrity of proprietary information. Both tools were
designed using the Java programming language to allow easy use through a browser
window over the Internet. Stand-alone versions were developed concurrently.
Both systems were extensively tested using statistics and by exclusion of blind
Both expert systems offer a very good simulation of expert human explorationists.
They also provide a quick-look tool for prospect analysis, enabling a faster
and more consistent exploration process and the ability to rapidly evaluate
well recompletion opportunities.
Support software developed for this project includes PredictOnline, an easily
used neural network program; FuzzyRank, a program for selecting relevant variables
using a fuzzy ranking algorithm; and Web-based Data Management System. All software
can be used by anyone with access to the Internet.
The software developed for this project:
- Delaware FEE Tool – Reduced dry hole risk by 75%.
- Delaware FEE Tool identified 4481 un-drilled prospects representing ~212 million barrels of recoverable reserves.
- Devonian FEE Tool – Reduced exploration area for Devonian Carbonates by 90%.
- Devonian FEE Tool – Identified ~1500 sections most likely to benefit from seismic surveys.
- Allow rapid and customizable analysis of large prospective areas for two formations.
- Supplemental tools, for Ranking of data for regressions, performing neural network regressions, and analyzing project data.
- All software accessible via the web.
Current Status (August 2006)
The project is complete. Based on these case studies, work on a customizable
fuzzy expert system has begun.
Project Start: March 15, 1999
Project End: March 14, 2005
Anticipated DOE Contribution: $2,090,688
Performer Contribution: $833,351 (28.5% of total)
NETL - Jim Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-699-2076)
PRRC - Robert Balch (email@example.com or 505-835-5305)
The project generated six annual reports and six semi-annual reports to the
DOE. The final report is available at http://ford.nmt.edu.
Balch, R.S., Ruan, T., and Schrader, S., Fuzzy Expert Systems in Oil Exploration,
SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, Orlando, FL, Feb.
Balch, R.S., Ruan, T., Weiss, W.W., and Schrader, S.M., Simulated Expert Interpretation
of Regional Data to Predict Drilling Risk, paper SPE 84067, presented at the
SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibit, Denver, CO, October 4-8, 2003.
Balch, R.S., Hart, D.M., and Weiss, W.W., Regional Data Analysis to Better
Predict Drilling Success: Brushy Canyon Formation, Delaware Basin New Mexico,
paper SPE 75145, presented at the Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, Tulsa,
OK, April 13-17, 2002.
Balch, R.S., Ruan, T., and Schrader, S.M., Drilling Risk Reduction with a Fuzzy
Expert Exploration Tool, presented at the American Association of Petroleum
Geologists' Southwest Section Annual Meeting, El Paso, TX, March 8-9, 2004.
Broadhead, R.F., and Justman, H.A., Regional Controls on Oil Accumulations,
Lower Brushy Canyon Formation, Southeast New Mexico, published in The Permian
Basin: Proving Ground for Tomorrow's Technologies, West Texas Geological Society,
No. 00-109 (October 2000) 9.
A computer screenshot showing a portion of the data review and input interface
for the Delaware FEE Tool.
A histogram showing project predictions across the entire Delaware basin.