.com vs. .gov

PDM’s editor Neil McNaughton traces the UK’s attempts to create a National Data Repository over the last four years. Now that the OGTIF is funding DEAL, he wonders what happened to "hands-off" government and questions the project’s alignment with both industry’s and the Government’s own "core business".

If I had to provide an instant mission statement for PDM it would include something along the lines of "we strive to produce clarity from the obscure." I'm not sure whether we always succeed. Sometimes extracting a fact or two from a superlative-laden press release is hard. Recent developments in the UK however have stretched our capacity to synthesize beyond the pale. Lets walk through how a National Data Bank (NDB) turned into an e-portal and try to understand who does what!


In the beginning was the UKOOA. An august body bringing together worthies from the UK operators to debate, not on how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but (inter alia) on how much navigation data can be stuffed onto an 80 column punched card. I know, I was there briefly, a quarter of a century ago (gasp!) But for now we will leave the UKOOA aside, since it had virtually no influence on the NDB until a month or two ago when popped up in deus ex machine fashion to join the fray.


The two key protagonists with early involvement in disseminating UK data are the DTI and the CDA. The DTI has a mission to broadcast information on the UK’s oil industry to the world. This it has to an extent achieved, with a significant amount of metadata on the UK wells available for download from the DTI’s website. CDA’s mission was different. Essentially a club of UK operators, CDA meant to cut costs, by providing a centralized data repository which would allow its members to throw away their in-house data. It must be emphasized that while the DTI manages the metadata (relatively easy), CDA set out to manage real bulk data - well logs and seismics. CDA also had to open the Pandora’s Box of Entitlements. I believe that it is fair to say that CDA failed in its main mission - of cost saving by eliminating in-house storage, since operators continue to store their own stuff independently.


One could conclude that CDA’s main contribution was to discover just how hard an apparently simple issue can become. UK well data is now on-line, but the exercise was so painful that the notion of extending this to seismic was quietly dropped. Fortunately, the new realm of the Portal, and of e-commerce came to the rescue offering the possibility of a "virtual" data store - a hub, managing entitlements, with pointers to data locations - either on data vendors sites or in-company data stores. (even though the original idea was to eliminate these!)


Another achievement for CDA is to have transmogrified gracefully, on two fronts. With the "Deed" (the agreement between CDA and the DTI) CDA gave its members a big break. Now, the act of supplying data to CDA allows an operator to fulfill DTI reporting requirements. As for the acquisition by the UKOOA of CDA, one only has to ask why this wasn't done at the outset.

New Labour

But above the plane of UKOOA and DTI, we have a yet more influential protagonist - in the form of the UK Government (yes I know the DTI is the government, but it’s not the Government). Enter New Labour, with shining new policies and a desire to capitalize on, no longer the white heat of technology, but the new dawn of the internet age. Having recently experienced e-government, chasing my own entitlements - to a pension - I was impressed. Not only is there a great deal of useful information, on the UK .gov sites, but I actually got an email back from a real person!


New Labour’s fray into data delivery over the net originated in the Oil and Gas Industry Task Force (OGTIF), which funded the LIFT project for license trading. This has been a resounding success - for Schlumberger, which has redeployed the technology in its IndigoPool.com e-commerce Portal. Perhaps sensing that this was not quite the way things were supposed to pan-out, the OGTIF quickly realigned the fledgling Data Environment for LIFT as the Digital Energy Atlas and Library, which, as we revealed in last month’s PDM is to be built for CDA/UKOOA by the British Geological Survey and ESRI.


I have to confess a degree of confusion here. As an Old Labourite-come-Thatcherite (yes I though that was the definition of New Labour too) I have to ask, what is the idea of all this government intervention? Is it up to the Government to select a GIS technology provider. To fund development of an e-commerce Portal for the oil industry?


Have recent developments solved the underlying issues - such as the differing viewpoints of operators, data vendors and government? Or are we witnessing round five of the saga of technology-focused "solutions" to non-technological issues. One such issue worthy of government attention is the exact nature of the public domain régime relating to seismic data in the UK offshore. IMHO, clarifying and liberalizing of this is more like "core business" for government than building e-commerce websites.

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