Software, software, everywhere, but which ones should I choose?

Software, software, everywhere, but which ones should I choose?

When I was a university student I would go to the geology department computer lab for class assignments or project work. Each computer was loaded with at least a dozen different programs. Neat little rows of icons lined the desktop. It was intimidating. Why were there so many? Which ones should I learn? Do I have to learn them all? No, you don’t, but what you learn depends on what you plan on doing. What follows is a short discussion on what software you might find and what they do in broad strokes. It is by no means comprehensive, but my goal is to give you a starting point while trying to avoid sounding like a commercial.

If you’re a geologist you will need a software package that can help you keep track of well information, correlate logs, create cross sections, and draw maps. If you asked ten geologists what software they used the answer would probably be Petra or GeoGraphix. These two packages do all of the above. Other geologists will use illustration software like Canvas, CorelDRAW, or Adobe Illustrator for drawing maps and sections. The more bootstrapped geologist might combine Excel (to organize well information), Schlumberger’s BlueView (for log displays), and Inkscape (for drawing maps and cross sections).

Geologists look for oil and gas reservoirs. The only way to prove their existence is by drilling into them. One you’ve established oil and gas are there the Petrophysicist figures the best way to get them out using well logs recorded after the well is drilled. Techlog, Geolog, and Wellcad are used by petrophysicists to manipulate well logs and use them to calculate rock attributes like porosity and permeability.

For those interested in the dark arts of seismic, the number of programs expands dramatically. Any seismic project can be split into three parts with custom programs for each; acquisition, processing, and interpretation.

Seismic interpretation software has to display seismic and allow someone to pick or digitize features for interpretation. Petrel, Landmark (DSG), Kingdom, Down Under Geophysical (DUG) and Epos are built for seismic interpretation. OpendTect is available for free if you don’t have thousands of dollars available for the others. Additional complexities can also change which program you use, such as prestack gathers for Amplitude Versus Offset (AVO) analysis and seismic inversion, which can be done using Hampson Russell.

A lot of pain and sweat is put into that beautiful, or not so beautiful, seismic volume you’re interpreting. To process seismic data from raw shot gather to migrated seismic volume you will probably use either SeisSpace, Prima, SeisUP, Omega, or Vista. You could also use Seismic UNIX and SeiSee which are free. Seismic UNIX needs a Linux operating system to use though. Before you can process the seismic data, you need to record it in the field. Mesa and OMNI 3D are available for planning where you want to lay out your shots and receivers, but the majority of companies offer survey planning as a service instead of selling the software.

In frontier areas where only one or two wells exist and a few 2D seismic lines or one 3D seismic survey are available, your job may be to model the development of the full petroleum system. Petromod and BasinMod are commonly used to build these models and predict the development timing for the elements of the petroleum system to decide if the area is worth further exploration.

You might run across an algorithm, equation, or filter in the literature you want to test out on some data. Matlab, Maple and Mathematica are used for coding or number crunching.

All of these datasets, models, and interpretations have to be located in the real world. ArcGIS and Quantum GIS do this. They are like Google Earth, but are better designed for loading and manipulating large datasets. Landsat images and LIDAR datasets have thousands or millions of data points, and GIS software is designed with tools to relate them spatially with each other.

So which program do I choose? My advice is to understand the task you want to accomplish and which program can help you. You will have several choices. Start with a program that people nearby are using so that you can get answers quickly when you need them. Don’t just ask your neighbor to teach you everything. They don’t want to sit down and teach someone from scratch. Use the help button. Try to tackle a problem one or two ways. That way you can ask someone else and let them know you’ve tried this and that. The other person will say, “Oh, but you didn’t do this.” Problem solved quickly and efficiently.

We are very fortunate to live in a time when many software packages are available to students at universities. It’s a good business model for the companies which donate them because a student learns how to use the software and requests to use it in whatever job they get after school. Most packages cost thousands of dollars to license on a yearly basis, or a little less on a monthly subscription basis. Students everywhere should be very grateful that these companies donate software for universities to use. However if you work for a small company or yourself freeware alternatives are available.

Don’t get too caught up in learning the right program. Companies are looking for people with initiative and learning a program on your own is a great way to show your willingness to tackle big problems. If they hire you and give you a program you’ve never used they will also provide you with the training you need to use that program because they are investing in your success. If you can learn one software package you can learn them all. I’ve gone through at least four during my short career in geoscience.