Most of the larger oil companies have adopted geographic information systems (GIS), or geospatial technology, and it has revolutionized the way they do business.
With GIS software it is possible to integrate diverse data layers into one map, all georeferenced so they overlay correctly. This allows users:
- To visualize relationships between layers heretofore unseen.
- To perform sophisticated data queries and analysis.
- To better visualize complex datasets in 2-D or 3-D.
The power to integrate and synthesize wide varieties of data is particularly useful for regional geologic studies and petroleum resource assessments.
A major advantage of GIS over conventional methods is the direct link between mapped features and the data tables associated with the features. That linked data is available for visual display, analysis or to be combined with other GIS data sets for further analysis (Hood et al, 2000, in AAPG Computer Applications in Geology No. 4, referenced below).
What is a "GIS"?
I like the U.S. Geological Survey's definition: "A computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing and displaying geographically referenced information; that is, data identified according to location.
"Practitioners also define a GIS as including the procedures, operating personnel, and spatial data that go into the system."
The amount of petroleum-related GIS data has expanded tremendously in the past few years, much of it available via Internet data portals. My discussion will focus on U.S. data: You don't need to pay a vendor to get basic well data for a lot of areas. Free or inexpensive well data tables with location coordinates are available from many of the petroleum-producing states. These tables can be easily converted into well points on a map using GIS software.
The tables typically have data fields such as depth, well status, well type or production data for map symbolization or analysis. Oil and gas field boundaries (polygons) for some producing states also are available from the same sources.
Much of the data needed to build a base map for an area of interest is available for free from Web sites such as geodata.gov or nationalatlas.gov. Political boundaries, cities, cadastral data, water bodies, roads, park and federal lands can be downloaded gratis.
Detailed land parcel data, when available online, is often for query only or for purchase.
Remote sensing data (including aerial photos and satellite images), ground elevation data (DEM) and global positioning system data also can be integrated, displayed and analyzed within a GIS. A lot of free imagery and DEMs are available on the Web at sites such as gisdata.usgs.net.
In order to enable the viewing of spatial data, interactive Web mapping sites have been constructed to let users browse or query oil and gas data.
(Excellent examples of these are the USGS National Oil and Gas Assessment and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources SONRIS system.)
Some allow users to click on and view related data such as scout card or lease information. An index of Web mapping sites can be found at mapdex.org. One of the most amazing Web applications is Google Earth, a 3-D Web GIS visualization tool that you can download for free.
AAPG is taking the revolution of GIS in the petroleum industry very seriously.
An ad-hoc committee chaired by Dick Bishop and co-chair Bret Fossum has recommended a process to capture spatial data in digital format from incoming articles and publications as well as from legacy data. This process, when implemented by the Executive Committee and the Elected Editor, will significantly expand the AAPG geospatial data library and provide a significant service to members and the industry.
AAPG is uniquely positioned to build such a library with its wealth of geologic data. To get an idea of AAPG's current spatial data projects, search for UDRIL (Upstream Digital Reference Information) on the AAPG Web site.
If you are new to GIS, what is the best way to learn more?
- A one-day, case-study based short course on the application of GIS and remote sensing to energy is planned by EMD for the 2006 AAPG convention in Houston.
- Hands-on (with PCs) GIS training with an emphasis on oil and gas applications is offered by companies such as TeachMeGIS.com.
- An excellent reference to read is the 2000 AAPG Computer Applications in Geology No. 4, Geographic Information Systems in Petroleum Exploration and Development, by Timothy C. Coburn and Jeffrey M. Yarus.
- A good conference to attend is the annual ESRI-sponsored GIS Petroleum User Group meeting in Houston.