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