Preserving geological assets

A joint Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain/London Geological Society event discussed how geological assets, both physical and digital, can be held for the long term. New UK regulations have clarified operators’ responsibilities and the UK is planning a National data repository. Attendees also learned of PGS’ big seismic data solution, use of ‘Linq’ to communicate between IT and executives, of machine learning in large text collections and on digitizing ExxonMobil’s thin sections.

Some 80 delegates attended the PESGB/Geolsoc conference, Preserving and protecting geological assets, held earlier this year in the UK. Chairman Paul Duller (Tribal and Geolsoc geoscience information group) observed that extraordinary budget pressures facing exploration companies and geological surveys are placing corporate and national collections in peril. The conference set out to offer different strategies and options to ensure that geological assets (physical samples, hard copy and electronic documents, digital data) are preserved, protected and not lost in downsizing, layoffs, mergers and closures.

Malcolm Fleming (Common Data Access) outlined the new regulatory environment of the 2016 UK Energy Act 2016 which has devolved new powers to the Oil & Gas Authority. The 2016 Act clarifies licensees’ obligations in respect of retention, reporting and release of geo-information and samples and is underpinned by escalating sanctions for non-compliance. Plans are afoot for a UK National data repository, described as a ‘conventional’ NDR to satisfy licensees’ reporting and retention obligations and allow data distribution and transfer through entitlement-setting.

Mike Howe presented on the British Geological Survey’s National geological repository (NGR), a large collection of geological materials, cores and samples collected from the early 1800s up to the present day. The NGR holds core and cuttings from every UK onshore and offshore well. The current financial climate has impacted NGR’s budget significantly, income from commercial users has halved while operators, cutting back on their holdings, are offering even more material. BGS’ answer is digitization, with databases and high resolution core imagery complementing sample storage. Mention was also made of the UK National geoscience data centre, the NGR’s digital twin and of the National hydrocarbons data archive (NHDA).

We were confused so we asked BGS’ Any Kingdom for clarification: ‘The NGR/NGDC division in our collections is somewhat arbitrary and partly due to different funding sources. In essence the NGR is the ‘core store’ for our own material and that which is archived by statute from the oil and gas industry and others. The NGDC holds digital data held in databases. So while a sidewall core is physically located in the NGR, its analytical data will be served from the NGDC.

Alan Smith (Luchelan) presented a practical solution to big (seismic) data management that was delivered by Ovation Data and Talus Technologies to PGS to manage its multi-client seismic data.

Andrew Zolnai enumerated various approaches to upstream data access and workflows before homing in on his current favorite Linq, a toolset that ‘bridges the communication gap between the IT experts and the non-technical executives via an information supply chain connecting information sources to decision support outputs.’ With Linq, executives can lead improvement initiatives by asking IT experts to describe technical proposals in terms of improved information flows.

Paul Cleverley, wearing his Robert Gordon University cap, described the use of machine learning and text analytics to exploit the ‘exponentially growing volumes of unstructured information’ that simultaneously offer the potential for information overload and serendipitous information discovery. Cleverley surveyed 53 geoscientists from an oil & gas operator and geoscience consultancy to study how novel machine learning based search could improve interaction with information collections such as the SPE’s OnePetro, the Geolsoc’s Lyell Collection and the American Geological Institute’s library. The study found that word co-occurrence techniques facilitate serendipitous discovery to a ‘statistically significant’ extent.

Barry Wells (Conwy Valley Systems) provided a closer look at petrographic data management. Capturing a meaningful description of a thin section is a tricky business. The field of view of a five megapixel camera means that around 250 images are needed to cover a typical thin section. A company like ExxonMobil is reported to have millions of thin sections – so digitizing these is a major undertaking*. Images need to be stitched together digitally for use. Tools of the trade include Gigapan and even ArcGIS whose raster image capability can be repurposed for slide data.

Alan Shipman (Group 5) presented on issues surrounding records management and companies’ legal obligations for retention. All this in the context of the UK Energy Act 2016 with its new dictates regarding retention of information and samples. As yet, these do not include details of what or how long information needs to be kept. This is work in progress under the auspices of the OGA. Whatever the outcome, Shipman is a advocate of Adobe PDF as the preferred means of document retention. PDF is an ‘open’ standard format. In its PDF/A manifestation it assures visual appearance and supports metadata management and ‘guarantees’ future accessibility.

* A possibly naïve multiplication would suggest that ExxonMobil’s thin section collection would, if digitized as above, represent several exabytes!

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