AAPG Taking Digits to the Next Step

GIS Initiative to 'Mine' Data for Members

Geologists are visual creatures, which helps explain why in most offices, maps cover just about every square inch of wall space.

In a perfect world, geologists could access any map at the touch of a button — and make any combination of overlays on that map.

Well the world may become a little more perfect.

Because, that's exactly what geographic information systems (GIS) provide — and use of GIS is beginning to proliferate in the geologic community. And AAPG is at the forefront of a movement to make a new, dynamic GIS-based dataset available.

"GIS is revolutionizing the way geologists work and think," said Richard Bishop, exploration geologist with ExxonMobil in Houston and past AAPG president.

"GIS not only improves the speed, efficiency and accuracy of our maps but also provides the ability to make analyses that were never before possible," he said. "For example, we can now integrate commercial data, such as leaseholder information, with our proprietary volumes data and calculate discovered or undiscovered volumes owned by other companies all over the world — and they do the same with us."

Such computational power will lead all disciplines within the business to learn different things much more rapidly, leading to greater insights, he believes.

"GIS allows the integration of technologies and interpretations — a whole range of ideas, data and analyses can be brought to problem solving that we have not seen before."

GIS is analogous to 3-D visualization, Bishop added. With 3-D, individuals such as the geologist, geophysicist, reservoir manager, drilling engineer and other key personnel can all come together in the visualization room and look at data pertinent to not only their particular problem but also see its relational impact on other areas as well.

This integration facilitates overall understanding of the larger problem.

"The same is true with GIS — everyone can input their data into the system and people will see things they never had the opportunity to see before and make calculations that they never made before, simply because it was too difficult," he said.

Even though major oil companies have been moving data into GIS systems for several years, scientific and professional organizations have been slower to build GIS systems because of the expense, Bishop said.

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Geologists are visual creatures, which helps explain why in most offices, maps cover just about every square inch of wall space.

In a perfect world, geologists could access any map at the touch of a button — and make any combination of overlays on that map.

Well the world may become a little more perfect.

Because, that's exactly what geographic information systems (GIS) provide — and use of GIS is beginning to proliferate in the geologic community. And AAPG is at the forefront of a movement to make a new, dynamic GIS-based dataset available.

"GIS is revolutionizing the way geologists work and think," said Richard Bishop, exploration geologist with ExxonMobil in Houston and past AAPG president.

"GIS not only improves the speed, efficiency and accuracy of our maps but also provides the ability to make analyses that were never before possible," he said. "For example, we can now integrate commercial data, such as leaseholder information, with our proprietary volumes data and calculate discovered or undiscovered volumes owned by other companies all over the world — and they do the same with us."

Such computational power will lead all disciplines within the business to learn different things much more rapidly, leading to greater insights, he believes.

"GIS allows the integration of technologies and interpretations — a whole range of ideas, data and analyses can be brought to problem solving that we have not seen before."

GIS is analogous to 3-D visualization, Bishop added. With 3-D, individuals such as the geologist, geophysicist, reservoir manager, drilling engineer and other key personnel can all come together in the visualization room and look at data pertinent to not only their particular problem but also see its relational impact on other areas as well.

This integration facilitates overall understanding of the larger problem.

"The same is true with GIS — everyone can input their data into the system and people will see things they never had the opportunity to see before and make calculations that they never made before, simply because it was too difficult," he said.

Even though major oil companies have been moving data into GIS systems for several years, scientific and professional organizations have been slower to build GIS systems because of the expense, Bishop said.

"Societies will have to band together to get this done and attain economies of scale," he added. "One suggestion is to create a jointly-owned company to manage the data, while at the same time allowing each society to retain ownership of its data."

AAPG Initiative

That is precisely the direction AAPG is moving.

"We realized we had all this data — AAPG has the largest geoscience data file by far, dating from 1917 to the present — but we needed to do more with it," said Rick Fritz, AAPG executive director.

"We met with major oil company officials to ask what they would like to see, and everyone wanted a GIS system," he said. "In fact, companies were taking some of AAPG's data and putting it into their own GIS systems. We realized that is the direction we have to go."

Fritz said all the AAPG scientific publications have been digitized — that's more than 340,000 published pages of literature — a tremendous resource for geologists and a data mine from which the Association can build a GIS system. As of July 1, AAPG members will have free access to the BULLETIN archives via the Internet.

"But the GIS initiative takes that another step because we do the data mining for geologists.

"All the data is there — now we have to turn that data into information geologists can use," Fritz continued. "We have to build a GIS system to combine all that data and present it in a visual context.

"We can provide added value by extracting databases, geo-referencing maps and seismic lines, and making special reports of interpreted data," he said. "The ultimate goal is to have fingertip access to all the data," Fritz said.

AAPG has hired a full-time professional, Jingyao Gong, to begin creating a GIS system.

"Visualization of the data is critical to geologists, and that is why GIS is so important," Gong said. "We have seismic lines, maps, articles, core, cross sections and other data on over 400 oil and gas fields in the world."

AAPG also has exploration, production, drilling and completion data, reservoir data, structural data and source rock data on spreadsheets for those fields, he added.

"We eliminate the time consuming and sometimes impossible task of searching through all the literature for information," Gong said.

"For example, AAPG has over 5,000 seismic lines in its various publications. All of those lines will be plotted on a map, so at a glance a user can see where we have seismic data."

While maps and other images in the AAPG GIS system will be strictly from AAPG and its affiliates due to copyright laws, other information on spreadsheet format is from all different sources such as the World Petroleum Congress, the Society of Petroleum Engineers and state regulatory agencies.

Another feature of the AAPG system is that users can attach their own data or data from other sources to the GIS system, providing maximum integration.

The Circle Widens

AAPG is establishing an "aggregate" for its GIS system to expand the project's scope, and is hoping to include all of its affiliated sections and societies. GCAGS and SEPM already are included, and CSPG likely will be part of the aggregate soon. The East Texas and Lafayette geological societies, for instance, have joined the effort and others will follow.

AAPG will be offering two types of products through its GIS system:

  • The most comprehensive is the derived product, which is simply access to the comprehensive data with no analytical enhancement.
  • There also will be an enhanced or analyzed product in which the raw data has been enhanced via the expertise of geologists in a particular field. AAPG is looking for volunteers willing to take the data and provide this enhancement in their area of expertise.

"Obviously, there will be less of this enhanced product because it is difficult to find the right experts who can donate their time, and it is more expensive," Fritz said.

Ultimately the GIS system will include:

  • A literature database.
  • More than 1,000 oil and gas field case histories formatted for a GIS data management application.
  • More than 10,000 geo-referenced maps taken from the literature and private sources.
  • Thousands of basin histories, core descriptions, seismic lines and log information, all keyed to a GIS retrieval system.

AAPG currently sells the data on CD-ROM, but it is testing Internet access for the GIS system.

Users will need a browser and password to log onto the Web site.

Deeper Potential

Gong, who has spent five years mining all the potential sources to create the GIS database, has just scratched the surface.

Of course, an endeavor of this magnitude is intensive and costly. AAPG is establishing a consortium of major oil companies to help finance the project, according to Fritz.

"We see this in terms of a five- to seven-year timeline," he said. "In the beginning the members of the consortium will get all the data as it becomes available. Further down the timeline, the GIS system will become available for sale to smaller companies and individuals. Then, finally, at the end of the timeline certain things will be offered free to members. We have just started this process."

This isn't the first time AAPG has sponsored a data consortium.

From 1993 to 1996, Datapages, AAPG's digital subsidiary, organized support from companies to digitize the entire publications archive, making AAPG the first upstream publisher with a 100 percent digital archive.

Fritz said this same type of effort will be critical to making the GIS system a reality.

"AAPG has a sales representative in Houston who will be responsible for direct marketing of the GIS system," explained Ron Hart AAPG marketing manager. "Mike Barnes is a geologist, so he understands the benefits of the system.

"This is a new marketing strategy for AAPG," he added, "but the potential of this system is tremendous and we need to knock on doors and show companies what we have to offer."

In addition to large oil companies, the U.S. Geological Survey has made a serious move to GIS.

"The USGS has done a marvelous job and is beginning to move large amounts of critical data that is very valuable to everybody," Bishop said. "You can download from the USGS Web site their maps and datasets. For example, you can call up maps that show data on ownership of all federal lands, information on earthquakes and volcanoes, outcrops, and pipelines. Also, you can manipulate that data.

"We are just beginning to scratch the surface on what we can do with geologic data," he added. "As more data becomes available via GIS from sources like the USGS, more people will begin using it in their interpretations and other applications.

"As more people start using GIS in their daily work, the value grows."

Bishop said a key attribute of GIS is the ability to continually improve and update the data.

"For example, the USGS might have a map that shows a fault," he said. "Another geologist might map that fault and add time of movement data. The USGS map can then be updated, thus adding value to the original interpretation.

"The same thing happens in exploration. As new wells or seismic comes in it's easy to update maps in GIS and, thus, update the entire dataset of related maps. This is a very efficient way to constantly improve the knowledge base of geology.

"The future is always a challenge, but I'll offer a prediction," Bishop said. "In five to 10 years, the use of GIS by members of our profession will be as common as their use of word processing is now."