Integration through Location

Are you getting the most out of your GIS?

By: Joe Howell

How well are Oil and Gas companies leveraging their investment in GIS?  GIS uses database tables and layers to analyze how things relate to each other geographically and most companies barely scratch the surface of its potential.  The biggest gap in corporate vision for GIS that I have observed is the ability to use location to integrate otherwise non-related systems.  Oil and Gas companies have different systems to manage Leasehold, Wells, Drilling, Pipeline Integrity, and SCADA monitoring (among many others).  From the perspective of the database, there is no easy way to tie these systems together.  But all of the systems have something in common… LOCATION!

LocationIntegration1I have been in operations centers that have both digital and paper maps for visualizing these assets.  The striking thing is that in virtually every case, they only use these tools for visualizing.  They don’t use the location information to tie the systems together digitally, they depend on manual efforts to examine the map and determine the relationship.  So what’s wrong with that?  It’s expensive and it entirely underutilizes the investment already made in building a GIS system.  Most energy companies use the ArcGIS suite by ESRI.  They spend thousands on desktop software and hundreds of thousands on servers and server software just to give them access to spatial analysis tools.  This is a large investment, and it is one that provides a lot of value.  The question is can it do more?  And the answer is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, YES IT CAN!

When was the last time you pulled out a paper map to get directions?  If you are like me, it has been several years.  Why?  Because you can go to (or bing or yahoo or…) and ask the computer to give you directions.  (Or better yet, have your phone or navigation computer handle it.)   Now when you pull up that map, do you go through it visually to figure out each turn?  Of course not… the application does it for you. Well there is no relationship between you and your destination, so how does the computer figure it out?  It uses GIS, of course.

Geography can be used to figure out the relationship between the meter and the lease, distance between valves (along the pipeline, as the crow flies, or driving), or even to find the nearest maintenance personnel for the compressor that is having issues. GIS really enables some out of the box thinking.  Virtually everything we do in this industry can be tied together with location.


Using location as an analysis tool isn’t limited to just proximity, density, or how things are connected in a network.  I recently worked on a tool that would allow executives use a sliding scale to see aggregated lease expiration by county across the entire nation.  Another project uses GIS to demonstrate percent of MAOP across pipelines based on SCADA information real time.  The operations center sees a data driven map interface which changes color and brings up a table and chart when threshold values are exceeded.  Geography can be a useful Business Intelligence tool to show how key performance indicators are impacting business.  Here are a few examples:

  • Production profitability by state and county or section.
  •  Evaluation and reporting of high consequence areas.
  • Comparison of lease expenditure and production or transport cost
  • Weather forecasting against drilling schedule
  • Lease expiration forecasting
  • Pipeline inspection and maintenance scheduling
  • Encroachment trends
  • Construction routing and cost estimation
  • Geologists can outline plays and direct leasing efforts
  • Coordination of leasehold and right of way acquisition between brokers

These are all location based processes that can help increase profitability.    The possibilities are limited only by our ability to find ways to examine and deliver the data.  As I said before, In the Oil and Gas industry, location is a part of just about every question.  Shouldn’t it be part of every answer?

Five Ways Location Based Technology Can Support a Pipeline Integrity Management Program

For gas transmission companies, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 mandates a set of regulations to ensure the safety and integrity of the pipeline system. Central to the legislation is the requirement for operators to prepare and implement an integrity management program (IMP), which requires operators to perform tasks such as risk analysis, assessment of baseline integrity for each segment in the system, and inspection of the entire pipeline system according to a mandated schedule. Failure to adequately implement an effective integrity management program can lead to significant penalties in the best case, and significant loss of life and property in the worst.

Due to the spatial nature of a pipeline system and its relationship to potential threats along the system, location based technology (sometimes referred to as geographic information systems, or GIS) has a significant role to play in an integrity management program. While not an exhaustive list, the following five areas illustrate how location based technology can make pipeline integrity management more efficient and effective.

1)     Delineation of high consequence areas (HCA)

High consequence areas along a pipeline system are those areas characterized by a high population density or containing facilities that are difficult to evacuate in the event of an emergency, such as hospitals, schools, or prisons. While an accident is unwelcomed anywhere along the system, an accident in a high consequence area has the potential for much more damage, and therefore benefits from additional resources for assessment and remediation. The very idea of an HCA is spatial by nature, and practically demands to be displayed on a map.

The process of identifying HCAs illustrates some of the classic functionality of a location based information system. First, each pipeline segment is buffered by the required distance (200 meters, e.g.) to create polygons representing the areas within the critical proximity to a pipe. Next, the segment buffer polygons are intersected with population density and facility location data so critical information from the underlying datasets can be extracted for each segment area. Finally, the segment areas can be queried to find the features deemed as high consequence areas.

2)     Data integration

Making optimal use of pipeline integrity data requires compiling and maintaining datasets that describe a variety of pipeline characteristics and auxiliary information, such as maintenance records, aerial surveys, and construction documents. Since all of this information is tied directly to a pipe segment (or segments) in the system, a location based approach to managing these data is a logical choice. Once tied to the spatial component, such data can come to life and be used to evaluate relationships between the data that may not have been conceptualized earlier.

A linear referencing technique can be used to tie relevant tabular data to specific segments of the system using relative from/to positions along a pipe. Data models such as the Pipeline Open Data Standard (PODS) support the management of such data along the system and can be integrated with any location-based information system. In addition to describing the current state of the system, historical information can be integrated as well. The PODS ESRI Spatial Implementation is an example of the PODS data model implemented in an ArcGIS geodatabase.

3)     Risk assessment

For any situation, risk can be defined by determining 1) what can go wrong?, 2) how likely it is to go wrong?, and 3) what would be the consequences of a failure? As dictated by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, risk assessment analysis is required for all segments within high consequence areas. Pipeline operators employ a variety of modeling techniques to assess risk along the system, including hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP), fault-tree analysis, and scenario-based (“what if?”) analysis. Such techniques generally focus on specific factors that relate to the probability of a pipeline failure as well as to the severity of the consequences of such an event. Each segment is then assigned a number that indicates relative risk within the system or likelihood of a failure occurring at that location.

As mentioned above, location based systems facilitate the integration of the wide variety of data required to execute these types of analyses. Most such models also utilize a spatial component, especially when factoring the impact to the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants (consequences).

Modern location based information systems are for much more than maintaining and viewing spatial data. Most of them include a powerful suite of geostatistical analysis tools and the ability to implement custom analytical logic. The ESRI Model Builder application provides a good illustration of the flexibility and analytical power built in to a modern GIS.

4)     Pipeline inspection

Not all of the work involved in carrying out a pipeline integrity management program happens behind a desk. Pipes need to be inspected, they need to be hydro tested, and sometimes repaired. Fortunately, a good location based information system doesn’t need to stay on the desk either. Field crews can be equipped with a GIS that integrates global positioning systems (GPS), digital cameras, laser rangefinders, and a variety of other peripherals to make their job easier.

Crew personnel on the ground, for example, might receive GPS locations and a digital photo from an aerial patrol for an observation they need to investigate. Using a location aware application on a smart phone or tablet, the crew could get driving directions using the coordinates provided and verify the observation using the photograph.

5)     Documentation and reporting

In a dynamic environment, where data are changing quickly, it’s important to be able to pull meaningful information out of the system when it’s needed. In the context of pipeline safety, of course, the information desired almost always centers around a set of pipeline segments. Within a location based information system, where all data are integrated with their related segments, data may be retrieved spatially (show me all the segments within the selected county on the map), or by using an attribute query (show me all segments with a diameter less than 8), or even both (show me all the gathering lines in the current map extent). The flexibility that such a system provides allows custom reports to be generated effortlessly and quickly and ensures that the data in the system are being used effectively to answer a variety of questions.

In addition to the power and flexibility of information contained in a GIS, the impact of using a map to support information displayed in a table or chart shouldn’t be underestimated. Sometimes a map is worth a thousand words.

Effective pipeline integrity management requires the integration of a variety of data sources into a coherent system, powerful tools for performing analysis, and the ability to produce meaningful summaries of the results. Location based information systems provide an ideal framework for such a system.

Location, Location, Location… In The Air

By Joe Howell

Pilot Patrol

Last week, I talked a bit about how GIS technology can improve asset management in the Oil and Gas industry.  This week I want to talk about putting it to good use as a part of Aerial Right of Way (ROW) inspection.

So why would you want to have a GIS system in the cockpit?  Many newer planes have navigation systems built in.  The military uses GIS in its planes and helicopters to coordinate troop movement and for target selection (among other things).   But how does that apply to Oil and Gas?  Three words:

  1. Safety
  2. Accuracy
  3. Simplicity

Piloting an aircraft can be a very demanding job even without having to try to collect information on the ground 1,000 to 3,000 feet below you.

When I was a boy, I used to ride with my father who was a pilot for Quality Drilling in Arizona.  I still remember the thrill of flying near the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell.  The reason it was so thrilling was the up and down drafts caused by those beautiful features below us that caused the plane to buck and jump.  My dad was fully engaged in flying the plane and often missed the things I would point out to him because he was busy keeping us aloft.

Any pilot will tell you that safety is priority one.  Pilots hired to do aerial inspection of pipelines are no different.  Because they fly at such low altitudes, they have little time to react and have to deal with potential hazards that don’t exist at 6000 feet.  On top of that, they are being asked to pay close attention to the pipeline and encroachments.  They have to take notes on events on the ground, where they are occurring, what is occurring, and how to get to the event.  They do all this while concentrating on wind speed, fuel, and other air traffic (a flock of seagulls can be even more inconvenient in the air).

This is where GIS comes in.  Using a GIS system allows the pilot to concentrate on flying the plane instead of trying to figure out where he is relative to the pipeline or ROW; let the GIS take care of that.  Load the GIS application with all of the pipeline data and ROW corridor, and display it on a map that the pilot can see.  Add an icon to show the current location of the aircraft… and abracadabra… no more detailed notes on location. Instead of a knee board with note paper, use a table computer with a map based application.

So now that the pilot knows where he is relative to the pipe, what about all those detailed notes?   Well GIS is more than just a map.  The aerial patrol application simplifies this through a straightforward form.  The map shows where he is and where the pipe is.  Just tap the screen to document an event.

Choose a category and document the observation.

Record a few additional details and you are done.

Okay, I know what you are thinking; what if the observation doesn’t fit in the template?  Well, simply choose other and make a voice recording of the event for later processing.  The application stores all of this information together as part of the event and the pilot can review it when he lands.

Using this location centric application accomplishes all of our goals:

  1. It simplifies the collection of infringements and other events along the right of way.
  2. It captures precise locations instead of just descriptions of locations.
  3. Most importantly, it allows the pilot to focus the majority of his attention to flying.

If you are able to put a spotter in the air with the pilot, the aerial patrol application can also be integrated with a camera and/or a laser rangefinder to capture more detail and increase the accuracy of the event location.

Putting GIS in the air with your pilots makes a lot of sense.  It makes the pilot’s job easier and improves the accuracy of the information you get back.

More to Come

Next week I will be discussing the use of GIS as an integration platform for visualizing SCADA information across the enterprise.

Location, Location, Location…

By Joe Howell, Oil & Gas Market Manager

Some of the most common challenges I have seen in Oil and Gas companies are related to using the data that they already have.  There are a multitude of operational, efficiency, regulatory, safety, and profitability issues that can be addressed by using a spatial system.  Today I will discuss 4 opportunities for improvement in this dynamic industry.  I will spend the next 4 weeks going into more detail about each.  The 4 categories I will address over the next month are:

  • Aerial inspection of Pipeline and ROW
  • Using GIS to integrate disparate business systems
  • Securing your GIS and improving performance
  • Enabling business innovation through GIS

Pilot Patrol

Let’s face it, aerial inspection is a difficult job.  You have to concentrate on little things like wind speed and direction, altitude, fuel, and any incidental air traffic (crop dusters beware!).  Taking notes on a knee pad about encroachments and other ROW issues is an art.  The use of a simple location-centric application can significantly improve the ease of capture and the quality of ROW information.  Let the system record the location, capture and send a picture of the encroachment, and record other needed information at the touch of a button.   Let the pilot concentrate on flying.  As an example, the Pilot Patrol application used by Energy Transfer Equity (ETE), L.P. improves safety and efficiency.  It eliminates the need for pilots to take detailed notes about the event and its location while they are flying and it significantly streamlines backend workflows.


Anyone who has worked in Oil and Gas IT knows how difficult it is to collate information.  From Lease Management to SCADA, the number of applications and processes used to track product from well to the end of the gathering system is staggering.  So how do you ever get the “big picture”?  Location to the rescue again; nearly every business system in the industry allows the capture of asset locations.  Capturing the latitude and longitude for simple assets will set you up for a fairly straight forward integration process with other systems.

Location information is the natural integration point of the many disparate systems that it takes to manage the complicated network of assets and activities that surround the entire industry.  Chances are that you already put it on a map; the next step is to let the map do some more work.  GIS brings flexibility to this space by providing a platform to present a clear concise summary of your holdings.


The performance of existing GIS systems is largely dependent on planning and execution.   Data management and workflows must go hand in hand.  If performance or usability drive personnel back to paper maps, reviewing the organization of the data and the workflows around capture and delivery of this data may provide surprising benefit.   The underlying health of the data impacts everything down stream.

One of the major challenges many companies face is the all too prevalent gap in knowledge between GIS and IT staff.  There is an even bigger gap between management and both groups.  When designing GIS applications, the needs of the individual users are paramount.   GIS database design should be done with personnel who understand both database architecture, spatial data, and the needs of the business.  Doing it right enables innovation, performance, and flexibility in the delivery of information to all levels of the business.


Nearly every business person in America is carrying a smart phone.  They use Google/Bing/Yahoo mapping applications and mobile email, web, and productivity software.    This mobile acumen opens up new opportunities for innovation.  Asset management, supply chain, emergency response, weather, and just about anything else you can think of can be done through mobile applications.  By leveraging technologies like Esri’s ArcGIS Online, you no longer need to rely on printouts that are obsolete before the ink is dry.  If you can take the time to understand the needs of the individual, you can build an application that will streamline their workflow.  In short, if you want to do things different and better, think about GIS.

More to Come

Next week I will be discussing in detail the Aerial Patrol application and how it improves quality and communication for pipeline inspection and right of way management.