How GIS Simplifies and Improves Data in the Oil and Gas Industry
Fading away are the days of shuffling through a stack of printed alignment drawings to find permit data or the soil composition in a boring along a pipeline route. Owner/operators in the oil and gas industry have been using geospatial information systems technology for years, and GIS is becoming the standard in a data-driven industry looking for the ease of digital access.
How is GIS Used in the Oil and Gas Industry?
GIS models the geography of a feature (the “G” in GIS) as well as information about that feature (the “I”) so both can be accessed by computer systems (the “S”) when needed. For example, in a GIS desktop application or web viewer, a wetland may be shown in relation to other geographic features. Clicking on that wetland, however, shows embedded information like wetland type and sub-type, measured size and date measured. In-depth analyses can be run against any combination of these geographic or informational attributes to answer questions more quickly and easily than with static drawings.
GIS has emerged more and more as an integrating platform to make relevant types of data accessible and understandable. This improves collaboration and ultimately, decision-making. The oil and gas industry capitalizes on GIS as a data integrator in (at least) four areas:
- Data-driven alignment sheets and data viewers
- Operations and maintenance activities
- Asset management
- Terrain assessment and routing
Benefits of Data-Driven Alignment Sheets
GIS is a very good integrator of information, which is what the oil and gas industry is looking for to make pipelines and facilities safer and more efficient. In fact, new federal regulations from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Mega Rule (expected to be final this year) require better digital recordkeeping. Armed with more data, oil and gas owners/operators can make more informed decisions faster, which saves them and their customers money.
For instance, if an owner/operator is looking for information about a particular pipeline metering station in a GIS document, they simply click on the station in the document and pop up the related permit or soil boring data. This is a data-driven alignment sheet. With all the data about the pipeline route or facility incorporated into the document, all that’s needed is an internet connection, and a tablet can easily be used to access all related details while in the field or at a meeting.
We recently worked with a client to develop a mobile construction database requested by the construction manager. The platform allows construction contractors, third-party inspectors, and client managers to access pipeline plans and specifications in the field. Proposed changes to the specifications can be marked on the fly, saving time and increasing efficiency.
This mobile platform also highlights another benefit of data-driven alignment sheets: automating the process. When you’re running alignment sheets from a digital database, you’re making changes to features and attributes rather than just changing a label on one static drawing. The changes are made once and affect everything related.
GIS Makes Data Transition to Operations and Maintenance Systems Easier
Because GIS data contain spatial features with their associated attributes embedded, they can be directly imported into oil and gas company operations and maintenance systems. Virtually all aspects of an oil and gas company’s work relates, directly or indirectly, to some geographical location, such as monitoring gas pressures at specific locations, improving field staff coordination and ensuring safety and environmental compliance at pipeline construction sites. The advanced mapping and spatial analytics of GIS offer greater understanding of relationships and patterns, so O&M systems can track maintenance efforts and pinpoint areas of concern.
Matching Asset Management to Appropriate Safety Protocols
The data collected through GIS—from initial design and construction to operations and maintenance records—can be compiled and accessed anywhere and anytime via GIS to make asset management decisions. Asset management keeps pipelines and facilities functioning at efficient levels of production and safety. It takes a lot of location-based information to determine appropriate safety protocols. For instance, how close is the pipeline or facility to a school, how many people live near a pipeline, is the pipeline in rough terrain, etc. GIS systems consolidate all of this information for analyses.
Terrain Assessment, Drones and Digital Terrain Models Bring Efficiency to Routing
Demand for GIS is skyrocketing as data-driven technology is required in the industry. When owner/operators are looking at a possible pipeline route or facility site, they need to have ample data available. GIS collects information like environmental permitting data, geotechnical information, roads, wetlands, and water bodies and presents the information together through multiple interfaces. Instead of engineers looking at a map, finding a wetland, park, or threatened and endangered species location and realizing a pipeline route needs to go around it, a computer algorithm automatically prioritizes routes with fewer regulatory, social or construction costs.
Drone technology is improving at a rapid rate and becoming ever more affordable. We can import data acquired from drone platforms into GIS to help proactively manage geotechnical and geological risks. GIS can create a Digital Terrain Model, or DTM, from the drone-collected information and crosscheck it with groundwater, soil type and other location-based information to answer questions about a pipeline’s stability. How much has a slope moved in the last month compared to last year? How are rainfall patterns affecting the changes? Do we need to take protective measures?
More data viewed together can help owner/operators make better decisions on how to manage their assets. GIS technology helps answer the where questions: Where is the route that provides the least environmental impact? Where will the owner/operator have the least cost for property acquisition?
GIS Goes Mobile
The future of technology in the oil and gas industry means making data even more mobile. Information can be added back into the system from anywhere. For example, to help avoid environmental non-compliance issues, we’re creating an environmental incident-reporting tool. We want any staff working in the field on a pipeline project to be able to report issues they see immediately (i.e., a silt fence damaged or restoration not properly completed). Once the incident is in the system, it automatically sets off a chain of events that addresses the issue.
With data-driven technology continuing to evolve in the oil and gas and many other industries, so is GIS. As GIS innovations become the standard, more information is readily available whenever and wherever needed. As a result, oil and gas owner/operators can make better-informed decisions that lead to more growth opportunities and enhanced maintenance and safety of natural gas pipelines and facilities.