BP is to spend $100m (£62m) over the next five years in an attempt to find more oil using what it claims is the world’s largest supercomputer for commercial research, with a memory equivalent to nearly 150,000 iPods.
A new “high-performance computing centre”, which will boast 536 terabytes of memory, will open next summer at the firm’s US headquarters in Houston. The centre will eventually see 5,000 computers and 67,000 central processing units hooked up together.
BP said the new equipment will be able to perform 2,000 trillion calculations a second and will cut the time taken to perform the imaging of subsea rock formations from four years to 24 hours.
Robert Fryar, the executive vice-president of production, said computers had proved vital in some of BP’s largest finds so far and the new technology “will be as important to our global search for new energy resources as any piece of [drill] equipment we employ today”.
BP declined to say exactly how much the technology cost but said $100m had been allocated to be spent on computers over the next five years.
Until now BP has used a mix of Hewlett-Packard and Dell equipment. It was not able to reveal what company would provide the bulk of the new supercomputer. The system is to be located in a “big concrete box within a box”: a hurricane-proof three-storey building, cooled using six 50-tonne air conditioners.
BP is keen to emphasise that it should also help make its operations safer by giving it more detailed information about what to expect before starting to drill.
The British-based company is working hard to improve its safety record following the Deepwater Horizon blowout of 2010 that caused the worst pollution incident in US history and has cost BP $40bn in fines and reparations.
Last week the US Environmental Agency said it was suspending BP’s involvement in federal contracts. The firm did not participate in a recent lease sale in the US Gulf.
Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, told an investor briefing earlier this week that it was planning to hugely increase its capital spending from around $21bn a year to as high as $27bn in future years.
BP said it would test 15 new oil and gas prospects globally between 2012 and 2015. About 35 of its exploration wells will target reserves with more than a quarter of a billion barrels of oil equivalent each. BP is determined to concentrate on oil for the bulk of its output, while Shell is committed to gas for half its overall production.
Asked by analysts what impact the focus on crude might have on carbon emissions, Dudley said: “We like black oil … our job is to get the company back on its feet for shareholders. Computers appear to be as much part of that strategy as rigs and refineries.”
[Image via AFP]