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Companies reap benefit from GIS

Colorado, USA, 1 October 2006: A fusion of high-tech advances in global information systems is sparking changes in how businesses and governments make decisions, and in turn, increasing business for local GIS providers. The new GIS mapping formats haven’t come too soon for aging oil and gas pipelines.

The local companies are in the business of adding data to maps. They help find not only the best routes for new pipelines, but also where pipeline corrosion is occurring and likely to occur, relative to population centers.

A roving sensor called a “pig” travels through pipelines, searching for changes in pressure that can indicate weakness or corrosion. That data is combined with outside information, such as sloping, areas of corrosive soil, landowner data and proximity to populations.

Whereas traditional maps show borders, rivers and roads, new GIS mapping technologies can add customized data sets to tailor maps for specific industries. Some real estate agents use Northern Colorado’s Real GIS, associated with New Century Software.

Oil and gas companies have long used GIS data for exploration. Now it’s coming to the surface, said Joe Berry of Berry & Associates of Fort Collins, a consultant for spatial information systems. While oil and gas industries have closely followed GIS advances, other industries are also reaping the benefits of advances.

GIS mapping can also be used by government to map the most wildfire-prone parts of national forests. Farming industries can track crop yield and soil conditions, for precision agriculture methods. Larimer County and local cities use maps for tracking zoning, flood-prone areas, crime and other uses.

Three factors propelled GIS, Berry said. Data technology capabilities have mass-multiplied. Computer hardware advances and availability the past couple years has enhanced processing and storage of data, in better formats. Thirdly, non-cartographers are better at thinking spatially, Berry said.

Thus, a map is no longer just a flat picture of the ground. It’s a multidimensional expression of factors for decision-making.

The result has been a rise in business for the dozen local GIS companies like New Century Software and Berry & Associates in Fort Collins. Drilling and exploration activities are on the rise throughout Colorado and in Weld County.

New Century Software helps prevent third-party damage to pipelines. By law, construction workers, citizens and landscapers are required to call before they dig to make sure they do not hit pipelines or other utilities underground. The software helps provide that accurate data both for the digger and the utility company.