New fossil-recognition software to aid shale gas drilling

Software, innovation
Source: DollarPhotoClub

A new pattern-recognition software originally designed to identify species of insects is one of 19 projects that secured funding from Innovate UK. The funding will help develop an idea which will transform the way shale oil and gas drilling is guided.

Daisy – a programme developed by Tumbling Dice Ltd, a software company from Gosforth, UK – was awarded a part of a £2m fund for its ability to analyse core samples obtained during drilling.

When prospecting for fossil fuels, analyses are regularly undertaken on core samples obtained via the drill. The purpose of such analysis is primarily to examine the samples for microplankton, such as foraminifera; and hence identify and date the strata in which the drill head is currently situated – the company website explains.

Mia Denos, who founded Tumbling Dice with physicist Mark O’Neill, explained: “At present, the oil and gas firms need to station a paleontologist at their drilling operations, which is expensive and time consuming.

“Sometimes, if there isn’t a paleontologist on site, a sample is often flown to the next nearest facility. This can cause hours of downtime for companies as drilling operations grind to a halt.

“Oil and gas firms face a shortage of trained paleontologists as the skills aren’t being renewed. That’s why the idea is not about replacing jobs – it’s good news for the industry as it can make the exploratory phase cheaper and more efficient.”

Daisy is a pattern-recognition software that can be taught to identify the microplankton contained within the drilled samples.

Results produced would be in real-time, making it a useful tool to accurately manipulate the drill head. The facility can easily be available around the clock, resulting in quicker decisions, greater efficiency, and ultimately reducing costs.

Daisy effectively “bottles” the skill of expert paleontologists. It learns from experience; the more the system is used the better the results. Initially, there will be identifications Daisy is unable make, but these could easily be sent through digitally to paleontologists located centrally covering a number of rigs. Provided that Daisy is then trained on that identification, it will learn and become better over time. This means that the need for future expert identifications will be reduced.

Tumbling Dice has strong links with the Natural History Museum in London, where Daisy is used by professor Norman McLeod to teach species identification. It has also featured on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme.

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