Logo: University of Southern California

CiSoft Going Strong into Fourth Year

Chevron-Viterbi collaboration on 'smart' oilfield technology holds fruitful meeting at USC
Eric Mankin
March 05, 2007 —
CiSoft leaders: (clockwise from lower left:) Mike Hauser, Chevron; Steven L. Christian, Chevron; Iraj Ershagi USC, and  Randolph Hall, USC.
USC researchers and front-line Chevron production personnel & technology developers gathered Feb. 28-March 1 to take stock of three years of cooperation, and plan their next steps, including two "grand challenges."

Viterbi School Dean Yannis Yortsos, and Vice Provost for Research Advancement Randolph Hall, on behalf of Provost Max Nikias,  personally welcomed a large number of these collaborators to USC for the CiSoft Forum, an annual CiSoft event.Chevron Chief Technology Officer Don Paul participated by telephone.

CiSoft, the Chevron-funded Center for Interactive Smart Oil Field Technology, will celebrate its third birthday in July 2007. Co-directed from its beginning by Chevron's Mike Hauser and the Viterbi School's Iraj Ershaghi, it now has approximately 15 Chevron professionals working directly with 21 Viterbi faculty members and 31 graduate students in 10 study/attack areas.

All of the USC researchers are from the Viterbi School — from the Daniel Epstein department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, the Department of Computer Science, the Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, and the USC Information Sciences Institute.

Ershaghi said that CiSoft is a unique center with outstanding opportunities for graduate students to benefit from its research and educational programs. The smart oilfield educational degrees, offered through the Viterbi School's Distance Education Network, are making headway in training the next generation of hybrid petroleum engineers to manage complex integrated operation of smart oilfield.

Hauser, manager of Chevron Global Upstream's i-field program, said that from the point of view of the company, the support for the CiSoft program was solid and continuing. "Our commitment is to a long-term relationship, and this new innovative center is unique relative to our other university relationships."

He added that he expected the first actual prototype uses of technology to be in the field before the end of 2007. Among the projects in development, he singled out initiatives to use enhanced analysis of real-time information about oilfield conditions to make accurate decisions as where the largest benefits will come.

Hauser said that CiSoft participation increasingly involved not only technical personnel but also managers and operating personnel responsible for production to make sure that the solutions were workable in terms of ongoing oil operations. Chevron Senior Counsel Steve Christian noted that the oil industry had different challenges than those normally intended for computer or software applications.  He indicated it was due to the enormous capital investments in the industry and the attendant need to carefully manage risks associated with the introduction of new designs and products.

Hall said CiSoft was unique at USC in the degree of "unifying doing research and putting it into practice." He contrasted the CiSoft model with the more usual pattern of universities doing government funded study and then "hoping for a use."
Ershaghi, left, and Hauser in front of CiSoft''s Tutor Hall office

The Grand Challenge problems addressed at the meeting are a new CiSoft approach. They involve two oilfields: one is a long-exploited "brown field," where (as Hauser noted) "all the easy stuff has already been tried," and the challenge is to find new ways to pull out increasingly scarce resources.

The other is a “green field,” an area where oil is believed to exist in exploitable quantity. The challenge here is to design, in deep detail, exactly how to best get the maximum from the field, using best practices right from the start.

For the fields of focus, team members received huge amounts of data, enabling them to work on actual solutions, with the aim of creating a coherent real-world plan.