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GIS has evolved more of the Scientific capabilities demanded by the oil and Gas industry

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Charles Fried
ESRI GIS Petroleum User Group (PUG)
ESRI, United States

Tell us something about the scenario of GIS usage in the Oil and Gas industry?
Ironically while the Petroleum industry is inherently spatial, GIS has had a slow start. GIS developed in response to needs in other sectors, such as local government. Meanwhile, specialized mapping applications developed to meet the scientific requirements in upstream petroleum. These specialized petroleum applications are adopting GIS technology to leverage the data management, coordinate system independence, data integration and other capabilities where GIS is superior. At the same time GIS has evolved more of the scientific capabilities demanded by the industry. In addition, the pipeline parts of the business recognized the immediate value of GIS to meet integrity management and regulatory demands. Thus there is a convergence of GIS and petroleum specific applications which is driving the uptake of GIS in a variety of applications.

How do you view the integration of GIS into different business models of Petroleum industry?
Because GIS is supported by a broad market, in contrast to the narrow petroleum business, development is supported and advanced by a larger user group. As a result GIS has evolved and continues to evolve advanced enterprise spatial data management, coordinate transformation, metadata standards, data integration, standards support, linear referencing, flexible user interfaces, and other useful features attractive to the petroleum markets, features that have been slow to appear in petroleum-specific applications. These advanced GIS capabilities have particular value in enterprise-scale data management which supports a wide variety of petroleum business requirements including Exploration, Production, Pipeline, Facilities Management, Transportation, Emergency Response and more. While GIS may not deliver the narrowly specific application functionality needed for all of these businesses, the capabilities it does provide are often the data back plane which complements the applications used in these sectors. The growing consciousness of spatial context driven by GPS and mobile devices, and by free internet mapping services will drive user and business expectations of spatially aware applications, and this will continue to drive adoption of GIS in Petroleum.

What all areas of research is the Petroleum and Gas industry into with respect to GIS?
There are quite a few areas of interest and investigation which can be fall under “research” as much as “applied study”:

  1. 3D for subsurface interpretation or reservoir management, and for facilities management and operations.
  2. Geodetics understanding and support for the large number of coordinate systems for global users, and for adequate capture of coordinate reference systems and transformations in metadata
  3. Facilities and integrity management for pipelines, offshore and offshore facilities
  4. Application integration between discipline specific applications and enterprise applications and GIS
  5. Metadata for ease of use, for standards for all data both internal and delivered by contractors and other sources.
  6. Risk assessment for exploration and drilling.

Real time GIS for tracking products, people, and facilities Requirements typically overlap in the above mentioned multiple topics.
For example, management of offshore facilities (c) is a problem in 3 dimensions (a) requiring real-time positioning and weather feeds (g) where understanding the complete spatial context requires integration of data from a variety of sources (e) in a variety of application formats (d) and coordinate systems (b).

Do you think that the current research on spatially enabled data models for the Petroleum and Pipeline industry may lead to the evolution of SDI for these domains?
The evolution of a spatial data infrastructure would be welcomed in the Petroleum and Pipeline industries. In those regions where SDI has been encouraged by government policy and is further advanced, such as the North Sea, Canada or Gulf of Mexico, data quality and availability is enhanced. There is still much room for improvement, however.

According to you, which are the popular GIS softwares for this industry?
This depends on what you call “GIS” but ESRI’s technologies seem to be the most widely used. Recently Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth / MapPoint have made an appearance as “consumer” oriented GIS. A large number of petroleum specific applications have started to incorporate GIS technologies, once again mostly ESRI, and as they look more and more “GIS-like” at some level they are also GIS software.

As a user from Petroleum Industry, what are the main functionalities you look for in a GIS software/application?
Robust and scalable enterprise data management, support of all coordinate systems and transformations, metadata storage and search, data integration, support for standards, broad market adoption, these are all specific capabilities I look for in a GIS platform. And of course, price, ease of use, performance, support requirements, and other factors common to all software are also considerations.

There are special interoperability requirements in oil and gas E&P, but here, as in most other industries, the dominant trend is toward standards-enabled integration with more general purpose kinds of software. What are your views on this?
Standards promote interoperability, which is a good thing certainly from the user point of view. However, I sense that software vendors don’t always see it in their interest to deliver transparent interoperability. In addition standards, as a kind of least common denominator, tend to move slowly. So while there will always be some tension between software and standards, I feel that standards are a good thing. I just wish things could move more quickly to deliver the kind of interoperability that we desire.

How active is the Oil & Gas industry in promoting research activities in Geospatial domain?
The industry has grown weary of funded development of software, and I don’t see very much of that. However, industry research projects into scientific disciplines are expected to deliver results in “GIS ready” form and I see this driving the adoption of standards and of GIS technologies in more scientific research. This in turn could drive the evolution of GIS standards and technologies as well.

What are the objectives of PUG? How is it positioned in the Middle East region in particular?
The objectives of the PUG are to both to give a coherent expression of petroleum GIS requirements and to provide a networked community to support petroleum users. GIS is a very generic technology. We have some very specific requirements which are not present in other markets , and in spite of continued growth we still represent a small fraction of the total population of GIS users. We recognized early that consolidating and organizing our requirements would give us more leverage with developers. This was a motivation to form the PUG. Initially the PUG developed as a largely Houston-centric phenomenon due to the high concentration of industry people in that city. However, as the community has grown in numbers, it has also grown in geographic extent.

Within the past year, a European PUG meeting has occurred, which appears to be the first of a series of regional meetings. However some aspects of the PUG will remain global, such as the Working Groups addressing petroleum specific technical issues. The European PUG may provide a model for other regions, for example the Middle East or South America, where there is a strong and growing regional population of petroleum users who would benefit from both local meetings and participation in the global PUG initiatives. I don’t see the regional and the global being in conflict, but complementary, and I’d like to see an initiative similar to what is
happening in Europe occur also in the Middle East.

How do you see the future of GIS in the Oil & Gas industry?
GIS technology has come such a long way and will be compounded with continued advances in the future. Combine the possibilities the technology with the enormous capital investments of the industry and there are tremendous benefits. The real issue in the petroleum industry is not the technology, nor the imagination, but the people available to make it happen. The cycles of the last twenty years have decimated the workers in the industry, and with a meagre influx of younger people, the workforce demographics and numbers limit the realization of the benefits of this technology.

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