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?


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.