‘Shaheen II’ System Enables World’s First Trillion-Cell Simulation

Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has set a record for oil and gas reservoir simulations. The achievement was made possible by “Shaheen II,” a Cray® XC40TM system at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

“The ‘trillion cell’ designation refers to how dense and high-resolution the imagery is,” explains Saber Feki, KAUST computational scientist lead, in a KAUST report on the breakthrough. “Think of it this way: We all carry megapixel cameras in our pockets. The Saudi Aramco team just simulated subsurface images with six orders of magnitude higher resolution on our machine. It’s research that will yield much more reliable information for oil exploration and production.”

In order to virtually see the reservoir, we have to “model” or “simulate” the reservoir using production data, special applications and high performance computing. Standard modeling today uses around 10 million to 100 million cells, which could run hundreds of times in order to produce an acceptable model. Only a few companies use models of 100-plus million cells. An example of a large model has around 243 million cells and a reservoir that covers roughly 46 square miles. A larger number of cells allows for modeling of larger reservoirs and also the ability to produce a higher-fidelity picture. It’s just like a TV that has gone from HD to 4K. You can get a bigger TV with exceptional fidelity or a smaller one with extreme fidelity. It just depends what you want to accomplish.

Many companies are looking to go to full-field reservoir modeling, meaning they want to model an entire field in one model. But most current applications, and the need for huge amounts of computing capacity, allow for only a small portion of the reservoir to be modeled. The Cray XC supercomputer system was built to handle this larger scale with reduced modeling times.

So, a trillion-cell model what does that mean? It means we could model huge production basins like the Permian in West Texas (approximately 75,000 square miles), or the Williston in Montana and North Dakota (roughly 200,000 square miles). Or we could model reservoirs down the most minute of cracks and micro-fissures and really begin to understand the workings of the reservoir.

Reservoir modeling can get very complicated very quickly. With the type of work KAUST is doing, these high-density models de-risk the subsurface for exploration and give us added insight into understanding how reservoirs function.

You can read more about Saudi Aramco’s work with KAUST and the Cray system here.


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