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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Code

How Oil & Gas Companies are Using GIS to Gain a Competitive Edge

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

By Alex Code

Growth in the use of GIS between 2016 and 2023 is forecast to increase nearly 10%. Organizations in both the private and public sectors are realizing that in order to compete, they must better understand their operations and the environments in which they operate.

GIS software provides a multitude of benefits for oil and gas. While it is used most heavily in the exploration and site selection phase, its benefits can extend throughout the production life cycle. The good news for oil and gas companies looking to take advantage of GIS is that more data is available today than ever before. Federal and State level data is often available through open data portals that allow anyone to download large datasets including everything from Census data to road and stream locations to topography and sensitive environmental areas. A growing number of state-based geological surveys and regulatory agencies are sharing geological and production data as well.

Forward-thinking companies are harnessing all of these data sources to reduce risk, make better decisions and improve efficiency.

What is GIS?

GIS, short for Geographic Information System, is a system for collecting, displaying, and storing geographic-related data. Viewing, editing, and analyzing geographic data through GIS software helps illustrate relationships and patterns that cannot be easily observed in raw datasets. Based on the same principles as traditional information systems (i.e. applications and databases), GIS software adds value with data analysis and visualization tools that help us better understand our interconnected world.

GIS in Exploration and Field Development

GIS can be a powerful tool for mapping geological structures and making data useful. Whether your data is coming from public or purchased datasets, the information is never perfect and must be analyzed and cleaned. GIS allows outliers to be quickly visualized, making them stand out to any experienced geologist or engineer. You can quickly explore region trends and assess where data may have limited utility due to limited coverage. This helps companies all the way from discovering structures to selecting a well site.

GIS benefits the site selection process by allowing users to visually explore geological structures in conjunction with existing oil and gas infrastructure. This helps companies perform assessments on the economics of new oil and gas projects. For example, using spatial analysis tools can facilitate site selection by looking at data such as existing utility corridors, transportation right-of-ways, and assessing slope factors. This can provide multiple pipeline and/or access scenarios which can be used for seeking out access rights and determining potential environmental, social and political impacts.

GIS in Oil and Gas Operations

While GIS in exploration and development is the most exciting, it’s not the only place that GIS can help improve profits and minimize risk. Using GIS in the production phase can help companies identify production trends, maintenance issues, and staffing issues. For example, if you track incidents or maintenance issues, those can be mapped against well attributes – for example, sour wells or age and lift type – and overlaid with staff coverage areas. This can be used to track work allocation and to determine operators’ work quality.

GIS can also be used to manage equipment and asset locations, and then used to refine the use of the resources your company has. Often this information is locked away in the minds of particular employees. When that person is unavailable (vacation, sickness or a new job), the rest of your team is left scrambling to address time-sensitive issues and doesn’t even know where to find what your company has. And what about when you’re trying to figure out next years purchasing and do budget projections? By storing the location of your material goods, your team not only knows what you have but where to find it. This transfers knowledge from the worker and gives it to the institution. If you aren’t placing a value on your institution's knowledge, then you’re letting money walk out the door with every lost employee (whether by switching jobs or retirement).

GIS is Risk Management

If making better profit margins doesn’t have you thinking that GIS can help your team, then let’s talk about what we fear. Oil and gas is an increasingly scrutinized industry both in public perception and in regulatory enforcement. Public perception is a long-term cost to industry, generally felt by the industry as a whole, rather than a single company (other than high profile cases). These trends are on the scale of years. The public perception also factors into regulatory enforcement, but regulatory enforcement occurs at both the macro and micro level. The cost of mistakes and adverse social (noise, odor, health and visual) and environmental (pollution, wildlife impact, etc.) factors can have very real and very immediate impacts. Any modern company should have a risk management approach that starts with situational awareness. Does your company know what and who is in the vicinity of your infrastructure? Do you know what will be impacted in the event of equipment failure? If not, you’re not managing your risk. In the event of a release, minutes can make the difference between a couple of thousand dollars and hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. A well-placed containment structure can do the same. Pulling potential social and environmental receptors into GIS can provide an easy-to-reference and easy-to-understand picture of your operations in the context of risk.

Getting Started

GIS doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor and it doesn’t have to require someone trained in GIS to permanently be on your team. If price is the concern, there is high-quality open source GIS software out there. If ease of use is a concern, there are some great applications out there that make GIS much simpler to use than it has been in the past. Get started by making sure you have good latitude and longitude (GPS) data for all of your wells. Pull that data in along with road, river, lake, public land and aerial imagery layers. Look at the areas surrounding your wells and get familiar with the surrounding land and potential risk receptors. After that, the sky is the limit. Do what makes you more informed, hedges risk and maximizes profits. If you’re interested in using GIS more but don’t know where to start, call us at (833) 254-6345 or send us an email at to schedule a free consultation.

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