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  • Writer's picture Irene Wallis

Fractoolbox is Nominated

My open-source python library for structural geology, geomechanics, and borehole image analysis is a finalist in the New Zealand Open Source Awards. Born from code developed during my doctoral research, this library includes methods for analysis and visualisation.

The New Zealand Open Source Awards recognise and celebrate free and open source software which span contributions to artistic, scientific, and social spheres. I’m one of three finalists in the science category, and I’m honoured to be amongst projects of such high caliber.

My doctoral research investigates geothermal permeability. When I started, I thought I’d be using the proprietary software that was graciously provided by Schlumberger and Baker Hughes. These software packages include best-in-class tools for handling image log data, visualising the interpreted fractures with other data acquired along the well path, and modelling how stress resolves onto those fractures and the borehole wall. However, in the first months of my research, I realised that relying solely on proprietary software generated three significant issues:

One: Without access to the underlying algorithms, it wasn’t possible for me to fully understand how the various approaches to modelling stress were implemented. I know some of the people behind developing these proprietary software packages and I’m confident that they made robust choices, yet I feel that research comes with the responsibility to understand how things work under the hood.

Two: Working with a black box meant that I was less able to play and explore, and this stifles innovation and creativity. When we use software to analyse data, someone has already designed the methods we use. To understand geothermal wells and resources, we must integrate data across disciplines and scales. Stepping beyond the traditional strip-log approach implemented in these software programs and writing my own bespoke python scripts has generated a more integrated, multidimensional analysis of geothermal wells and enabled clearer communication of results.

Three: Using the proprietary software for geomechanical modelling would have made my research less repeatable. To repeat my study, someone would need either enough money to purchase the software or be working in a research institution where they can obtain a research license. This issue disproportionally impacts researchers in developing countries and commercial geoscientists who work in small businesses, as is typical in the geothermal industry. This issue also impacts future me: If I’d only used expensive software during my research, I would not have been able use or expand my research after returning to the geothermal industry.

Dealing with these issues meant doing something that revolutionised my technical capability: I learnt to code. Four years ago, and just a few months into my doctoral research, I wrote my first “hello world” in Python. This journey has been challenging at times and meant my PhD has taken longer than originally planned. But it has not been a lonely journey because of the active support from my doctoral supervisor David Dempsey, the friendly folk at the University of Auckland Centre for E-Research, the dynamic communality at Software Underground, and the new friends-who-code that I’ve made along the way.

You’ll find Fractoolbox here. I’ve not added much to this library lately because I’m in the write-up stage of my research, but I have a trove of code that I’m looking forward to adding after submission. I’d also like to turn it into a package so it’s easy to for people to install. Watch this space for exciting things to come, and please don’t ask how the writing is going.

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