Our mission is to provide full scale support of exploration work.

Recent years have seen radical changes to exploration techniques both in Russia and around the globe. It is attributed to the degradation of the world's resource base, and to the active integration of IT solutions across all segments of geological exploration. Andrei Bochkov, Deputy Head of Gazpromneft Science and Technology Center, Exploration Work and Resource Development Base, shares with OGJRussia Gazpromneft Science & Technology Center's vision of development prospects for exploration work and major exploration projects.



— Andrei, what are the core competences of Gazpromneft Science and Technology Center in the exploration work segment?

— Gazpromneft Science & Technology Center incorporates an exploration work and resource base development division (EW & RBD). Our mission is to provide full scale support of exploration work. We do all requisite analytics related to the preparation of development strategies for the resource base of the subsidiaries and the company as a whole, along with the screening and basin modeling of the company's areas of operation. The EW & RBD also gives field and office support to seismic exploration, core and fluid analyses, and well testing. Work goes ahead at all stages: planning, design selection for research programs, research work, supervising, interpretation and cost analysis in support of investment decisions.

We run those programs together with our subsidiaries and the company's corporate center and we also have internal competence centers for seismic methods, as well as basin, sedimentation, geochemical and geomechanical modeling techniques. The Science & Technology Center provides geological and cost estimation of the company's assets, including its potential acquisitions, runs technology development program for exploration work (with over 20 research projects being currently underway), and gives supports to non-conventional reserves and offshore projects. Regarding the form of collaboration, Gazpromneft Science & Technology Center operates both independently and in partnership with research centers at Russian and foreign companies, as well as at government-owned consortiums.

—The Science & Technology Center operates in line with Gazprom Neft's Technology Strategy. What achievements can you boast in your exploration work?

—Exploration work is one of the nine priorities in the company's long-term development program. What makes the technology strategy special is that running projects and technologies are focused on addressing specific problems and challenges vital to Gazprom Neft. Thus, the exploration focus is on those aspects that grant access to new reserves and resources, improve the prediction accuracy and quality of exploration methods, and select the most suitable range of research activities to get a further insight into assets.

For the time being we have about 25 technology projects in progress. This year, the first four ones are set for implementation in the production units of the company. The combined effect from those projects alone going forward to 2025 is over RUB 2 B. Upon completion of the projects, potential intellectual property rights (IPR) were identified initiating appropriate application filing procedures for one copyright asset and three patentable subject matters. In substantiating the final results, the prospect of replicating those technologies at the company's operating entities as early as in 2017-2019 was stressed.

—Well, then, let's move on to specific solutions and technologies. Please tell us about the center's regional studies. What are the primary challenges of basin modeling?

— Each type of modeling targets is a specific geological issue calling for certain investment decisions. In practice, to make additions to the resource base available to Gazprom Neft, we are looking out for leads and prospects both in and outside Russia, and hydrocarbon modeling (or basin modeling) techniques help us with this effort.

The basin modeling technique is to recreate the processes that occurred millions of years ago from hydrocarbon generation to migration and accumulation in reservoirs. Thus, we are able to assess and digitize a region-specific potential and risks. During 8 years' basin modeling development at the Science & Technology Center, about 20 projects varying in subjects and complexity have been implemented. At present our center engages in end-to-end basin modeling, including a challenging stage of cross-section paleoreconstruction replaying the tectonic history of the region's development and correlating tectonic processes with anomalies identified in seismic and downhole tests.

The basin modeling process is required at the stage of regional work at Gazprom Neft. A misjudgment at the project initiation phase and on mounting large-scale research efforts can be worth tens and hundreds of billions of rubles, so it is necessary to put in thorough analytical work as complete as possible to allow us to justify and manage the risks incidental to the geological study of a new area. We have already had precedents of companies being able to achieve several billion rubles in savings based on such modeling findings.

— Also, to manage risks and to study the structure of productive reservoirs, conceptual geological modeling is used. What is being done in this area?

— This is an essential and compulsory element in adequate geological modeling at any stage of field exploration and development. For example, when we deal with modeling at the scale of an entire region, this process guides us into oil and gas potential prospects, sedimentation mechanisms, the potential, risks and uncertainties of the proposed resource base and, as a result, into the most appropriate study programs. At later stages, when the field is in production when the operator is able to rely on historical data, conceptual geomodels make it possible to describe the potential of edge zones and overlooked targets and to come up with new geological concepts. This method is widely applied in our company. For example, its application at some of Gazprom Neft's brown-field assets located in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug has made it possible to reverse the production profile gaining an increase in hydrocarbon production.

Also, the intensive use of conceptual geological modeling augmented by general regional studies and project logic was instrumental in discovering a new field in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Zapadno-Chatylki license area (the license is held by Gazpromneft-Noyabrskneftegaz). Three wildcat wells encountered six individual oil pools with a total oil-in-place upwards 40 million tons.

—Generally speaking of geological and geophysical modeling, what types of modeling are mostly needed today?

— Each type of modeling is an integral part of the general geological and geophysical model of a reservoir and targets its specific problem in geology study and engineering. The need for such integrated support and even modeling method selection for decision-making is dictated by the quality of reserves becoming progressively degraded and their geological structure getting more and more complicated. The use of all information is the key to simulating and analyzing various scenarios in the office to make no mistake in the field. Here, it is essential not only to apply the latest technologies, but also to be discriminating about choosing any specific type of modeling in a particular case, and to be suitably qualified to carry out expert examination. For example, finely detailed honeycombed models are used to deal with the issue of reproducing transient phenomena, such as gas cone formation, displacement front destabilization and other phenomena; larger sectoral geological models – to address the issue of reproducing facial heterogeneity and evaluating effective reservoir parameters; and full-scale models – to analyze and select the best case study programs and development systems.

With the geological structure getting more and more complex more advanced techniques of drilling, well design, completion systems, reservoir stimulation come into play. Using data in complex models, we are able to digitize risks at early field development stages, even before drilling or approaching some other production task. Therefore, the necessity for complex modeling is a forced one. But in applying such approaches, we can see for ourselves great potential and new areas of growth, never mind, that it produces a super-fast response from a well and a good result.

For example, Gazprom Neft set up a unique geomechanical modeling center for Russia. Geomechanical modeling is designed to address complications arising from drilling wells, to take into account geomechanical effects in the design of a development system, and the design of hydraulic fracturing, and to cope with difficulties in interpreting seismic data.

— What software is used at the Science & Technology Center for simulation purposes?

— Naturally, some of software we use is industry-standard software. In parallel, the Science & Technology Center is developing its own software products enabling a comprehensive approach to modeling, reservoir analysis, accelerated investment decision making and improved quality. In particular, we have created the 'GeoMate' platform that is a packaged product where, in a single data space, a geologist can simultaneously work with core data, logs, maps, test and development findings using fast analytical tools. It becomes possible to find new ideas at the crossroads of disciplines. Over 100 employees at the research center already use this software.

This year, we have put into operation the VEGA product for risk analysis and management in geological exploration based on probabilistic assessment, geological find assessment and risk analysis in decision making; developed software for spectral decomposition with RGB mixing together with an exciting approach to generating digital maps suitable both for statistical analysis, and for downloading to third-party software products.

Another thrilling project we are currently working on is being run jointly with Yandex.Terra. We are creating a seismic data processing platform product enabling us to attract almost all market players based on a plain sequence of actions and steps processing and interpreting seismic data. And they can add improvements to this process. So we have plans to combine our own developments and third-party initiatives in a single information field.

— What goals do you set when developing your own software?

— We have here a host of issues. The first one is adapting existing tools to the specifics of the company's data flows. No matter how advanced software in use is, it should be made compatible with our own system, and this is not always possible. The second one is using developed products to disseminate methodological and technological know-how that should be promptly replicated within the company, transferred from the minds of experts into formalized modules and software products, so that all employees could make use of them. The third one is forming an information work space to facilitate communication between professionals from different areas: petrophysicists, geophysicists, geologists, seismic explorers, developers and others.

The fourth one is obtaining the ability to process and store not only primary data, but also intellectual processing products, i.e. more sophisticated models and solutions. The value of such models or products stemming from cross-functional discussions is extremely high, and it is also essential to exercise care of their storage.

— How do you assess the likelihood of creating a completely domestic software package designed to handle geological and geophysical problems?

— I believe it is possible. Collaboration with fundamental universities in Russia, engineering centers, and small innovative companies is a testament to good competencies and a deep-minded approach to addressing many problems. This is where domestic professionals have the competitive edge that might be used to create independent software products, including completely new ones from the perspective of platform technologies. In this case, the ball is in the court of oil and gas companies that can act as an industrial partner and customer and, most importantly, as a party giving support to the development process and prompt feedback. We have successful precedents of software being implemented exactly in this kind of environment. For example, Gazprom Neft, in association with the MIPT (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) is developing its own IT solutions that will improve an approach to the MSHF (multi-stage hydraulic fracturing) engineering analysis and optimization. This software product is dubbed ROST MGRP (Optimum Crack System Calculations).

— Today, Big Data quite frequently and on many occasions features as a kind of stairway to the next level of generalization. Is it of any value to the Gazpromneft's Science and Technology Center?

—Of course, it is. Geological data is in pure form Big Data, as we amalgamate massive sets of data of varied scale, and studies of diverse physical nature, selecting and using similar products and so on. To move ahead in this area, Gazprom Neft enters into strategic partnerships with industry leaders in Russia and abroad – Yandex Data Factory, Innopraktika, and IBM. Specifically, together with IBM, we are working on intelligent decision-making systems in geological exploration that will enable us to uncover more profound links between different data leveraging automation, high-performance computing and machine learning technologies and, as a result, to provide sounder and faster rationale for geological and economic proposals.

—Supercomputers are required to handle such chunks of data. What computing capacities does the Science & Technology Center have at its disposal?

— The Science & Technology Center naturally has workstations and clusters that make it possible to speed up and optimize calculations. Now we are developing cooperation with the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University having in place an extremely powerful hybrid cluster, the so-called supercomputer listed one of the highest performing data processing systems in the Russian Federation with a total peak performance of over 1.2 petaflops (PF). The computing resources of the Supercomputer Center are packed in 25,000 cores. We have already conducted pilot testing on seismic and hydrodynamic projects; we are currently testing geomechanical projects. On the one hand, it will allow us to crunch numbers faster and more efficiently, and on the other hand, it will provide a platform to carry out high-performance computing in the future when applying and adapting innovative technologies. The supercomputer is to be operated remotely – from workstations at the Science & Technology Center.

— Seismic data beam-based modeling has been made part of the Science & Technology Center's operations. How much does it help to improve the accuracy of fieldwork activities?

—The beam-based modeling technique (it should be noted that this is only one of the methods) is being integrated into the value of information (VoI) maximization approach at our center The VoI approach is that to select the most suitable arrays of reservoir research and study tools from the perspective of the potential economic effect by conducting digital experiments. Specifically, when we design seismic operations, it is critical to plan and digitize the most suitable (design) layout of the observation system to acquire maximum data at minimum cost.

Beam-based modeling provides a means of effectively conducting an early-stage field experiment on a workstation using a predictive geological model. Subject to the useful signal evaluation and the success in identifying the required geological target by a seismic crew, it becomes possible to adjust it for specific geological conditions to obtain maximum performance with minimum resources. To date, this technique has been applied in some seismic projects at Gazprom Neft's subsidiaries on the Yamal peninsula, in KhMAO (Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug), in Orenburg and Tomsk regions and even in offshore areas.

— And generally speaking, what consideration does the Science & Technology Center give to field research techniques?

— Here I would like to note the importance of organizing theme-based technology forums. More than 10 such exploration-specific conferences attended by all interested parties in the industry have been held. During meetings, discussions are held between representatives of the company's subsidiaries who voice their challenges and other market players who have ideas how to about those problems.

If reference is made to field seismic exploration, it can be exemplified by 'green seismic' projects implemented at the company's assets. Gazprom Neft first-tested such equipment three years ago at its overseas assets (in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of the Republic of Iraq) and then employed it at fields operated by Gazpromneft-Noyabrskneftegaz, Gazpromneft-Khantos, Gazpromneft- East and Slavneft-Megionneftegaz. The field research work proved that the quality of geological data obtained by the innovative new technology is on a par with the performance of produced by traditional seismic methods. The advantage is that a smaller area of wood is cut down, fewer personnel are involved, and less work is done. The technology is general-purpose and can be used anyplace – in forest regions and in agricultural areas, on mountain sides or around infrastructure facilities where it is much easier to locate wireless sensors than conventional ones. With the use of modern equipment and organizational planning solutions, 'Green seismics' can significantly diminish the human footprint on the environment and the rate of occupational injuries. The economic benefit from the application of the innovative seismic survey solution is expected to equate to RUB 250 M per year.

—Please give some more details about those forums.

— Forums usually feature highly diverse themes: from seeking a solution for a specific geological problem to discussing technological challenges. For example, we held a forum to discuss approaches to dealing with Achimov deposits. Different companies have very varied experience and accumulated expertise on this issue, and it would make much sense to combine and formalize all these things.

Russian oil companies, research centers, universities, and various innovative firms are invited to such meetings. Normally, they take the form of broad-ranging, open discussions involving up to a hundred of professionals. Here are just some of the topics: non-seismic prediction techniques, micro-seismic research techniques, software development approaches, and many others. Such a wide variety of topics brings together professionals from different fields to improve the overall quality of work and to find new ideas.

—Let's move on to another topic that keeps much of Gazprom Neft's attention. It is the development of hard-to-recover reserves. What HRR (hard-to-recover reserves) classification do you use?

— Generally speaking, it should be acknowledged that there are a large number of different HRR classifications at companies. The specific nature of the reserves portfolio attributed to each company gives guidance as to what techniques such company should focus on to develop reserves in a cost-effective manner. And it should be borne in mind that hard-to-recover reserves are generally defined as those that have no commercial value with existing technologies and tax regime.

Anyway, 'you should have detailed knowledge of your enemy' and appropriate identification, digitization and location of such reserves and focus selection of techniques give you the right clues. In the most general sense, we discriminate between conventional HRR (low-permeability, oil leg and others) and non-conventional ones (Bazhenov, Domanik and others). Specific techniques are selected for each group of reserves. For example, the development of low-permeability reservoirs that used to be rated as non-commercial for production five years ago, involves the use of present-day technologies with about 50 million tons of such reserves being brought into development.

—What work is ongoing to develop research techniques for the Bazhenov formation?

—Gazprom Neft has developed a system based program for projects to develop unconventional reserves, including those confined to the Bazhenov formation. Today, the Bazhenov formation is being intensively developed by various alliances and consortiums, the largest of which is Gazprom Neft. This project acquired the national status in spring. The point of exercise is to bring this strategic resource into cost-effective development.

The Science & Technology Center is currently working on the Bazhenov formation with a three-pronged approach. First, it is the regional level, when we assess the prospects of Bazhenov deposits in the company's licensed areas and contiguous acreages. Second, it is the formation level where we study the geological structure. Third, it is the selection of drilling and fracturing methods, and a reservoir simulation technique to create an artificial reservoir in the Bazhenov formation and induce an inflow of hydrocarbons. We have created sedimentation and formation models, and detailed geological models for the Bazhenov suite. On one hand, these make it possible to design a necessary study system for the formation and reservoir stimulation techniques, on the other hand, to assess the effect from application.

Here you can be witness to the workings of one of the largest scientific consortiums in this country organized to study the Bazhenov formation. i.e. the consortium of leading Russian universities (the Moscow State University, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas) and the Skolkovo technical center, while Gazprom Neft acts as an industrial partner. Such collaboration implies that research work relies on our actual data and experts from Gazpromneft's Science and Technology Center gives guidance to studies and run acceptance of findings. The best world practices for studying shale formations have been tested in the research process. As a result, more than 330 m of the core from the Bazhenov formation running across nine Western Siberian sweet spots have been studied, more than 20,000 measurements and experiments have been carried out and nine intellectual property assets have been registered to date.

— Is it possible to compare the Bazhenov formation with the American formations for reservoir, petrophysical and other properties?

— We keep track of all current trends, publications and successes in the development of shale formations in the Americas and make appropriate conclusions. Unfortunately, the analogy method is not applicable here, we see fundamental differences in thicknesses, lithological composition, reservoir and strength properties, and in the reservoir description. What could you ask for if the Bazhenov formation is seen to be strongly variable within a single field?

The development of the Bazhenov formation is one of the first challenges on such a scale that made the entire industry think of remodeling the concept of its technological development. Previously, it was to monitor the best available technologies on the market and their applications in specific activities in the company's portfolio. Currently, we are required make a request for designing technologies that are yet to come into existence, rather than procure an out-of-the-box solution

— Has there been any project implemented at the Science & Technology Center that surprised you?

— I am much inspired by the study and introduction of experiences and technologies used in cross disciplines unrelated to oil and gas. For example, when data is processed, very similar inverse problems are handled in medicine and in aviation engineering: it is necessary to restore data by reference to indirect indicators and, most importantly, to decide what to do next. This is an awfully exciting experience and approach that is currently applied at the Science & Technology Center in several projects. Technologies are adopted from related industries to be used for decision-making.

The sample recognition technology based on seismic attributes is similar to the medical problem of analyzing MRI images. I have already illustrated by an example the frequency blending technologies borrowed from medicine for seismic exploration to isolate geological targets through spectral analysis. A rise in efficiency even as marginal as 5% in this area can save tens of billions of rubles on those potentially 'dry' wells for which funds have not been ultimately spent.

—You mentioned the use of attributes when dealing with seismic data. How much is attribute analysis needed today to get appropriate results?

— Attribute analysis is a seismic tool, and mathematical processing of a seismic signal that can lay bare hidden patterns and accentuate features invisible to the eye of an expert. This area also has its development pattern: seismic engineers switch from seismic signal amplitudes to signal spectrum and sample recognition techniques, and to application of machine learning approaches. This ultimately enables us to isolate and accentuate the geological features that could be overlooked in a textbook approach.

—Now let's talk about global things. Where, do you think, the global exploration industry is heading for?

—I will point some trends in the global exploration industry. One of them is a reduced exploration time span: from the selection of technologies that maximize the reservoir potential or eliminate maximum uncertainties to arrival at the drilling site. This makes demands not only for reasonable planning and R & D project management, but also for the restructuring of organizational processes.

Another is digitalization in the field of geology and exploration work. The area of exploration work per se contains huge arrays of data. It is critical to integrate and align all methods. It is necessary to look for new links and concept on borderline between disciplines. Today more data pours in leaving less time to get maximum useful material. The development and integration of predictive systems, intelligent 'advisors' to processing and interpret data clearly forms a clearly recognizable trend.

Another trend is the platform-based interface between market players, when service providers, research outfits, and industrial partners join together in a crowd-sourcing format. An idea comes forth and any startup, university, small innovative businesses get an opportunity to offer new approaches, and fresh views to improve existing solutions, to provide more efficient, faster and higher performing data processing and to arrive at the most suitable solutions.

The interview with Andrei Bochkov is also available on the magazine website.


Andrei S. [Sergeevich] Bochkov

Education Background: He graduated with honors from the Bashkir State University with a degree in geophysics, and Master's Degree in a Petroleum Geology from the Heriot-Watt University. In 2011, he upheld his thesis at the Department of Geophysics, the Physics Faculty, at the Bashkir State University

Work Experience & Credentials Andrei Bochkov started his career path as an engineer at NPO GeoTEK, later he worked as a research assistant, a chief specialist, regional principal project engineer for geology at Rosneft LLC RN-UfaNIPIneft. He joined the Scientific and Technical Center at Gazprom Neft in May 2012 as deputy head of the geology and field development department.
In April 7, 2014 he was appointed as head of the planning and exploration support department.
Since March 1, 2016, he has held the position of Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Exploration and Resource Base Development, at the Scientific and Technical Center.

Academic Credentials: He is the author of over 50 articles on geology and field development in industry publications. Andrei designed 6 specialized software modules on geological modeling and obtained 8 patents. He prepares and reads lectures for 3 courses as part the professional development center at Gazpromneft Science & Technology Center; 2 courses on geology at the Bashkir State University and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He is a member of SPE and EAGE; a member of the EAGE expert club. 

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