Data management

Industry Dives into UK’s New Oil and Gas Data Hub

Some 3,000 people and counting intrigued by UK oil and gas data have signed up for access to the country’s new National Data Repository. What motivated the OGA to make the data available to the public, and what can the public do with the data?

New technology taps a difficult field west of Shetland. The UK oil and gas industry would like to see more projects like Clair Ridge, where operator BP and its partners overcame tough reservoir characteristics to start oil production late last year. Source: BP.

Publication by the UK Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) of 130 terabytes of the country’s oil and gas data has captured the imaginations of the upstream industry both domestically and abroad.

Launched 20 February, OGA’s National Data Repository (NDR) started off with 100 industry users and has since grown to 1,270 along with another 1,760 public users. Data consumers have signed up from 94 countries, with around half of active users from outside the UK. In April, users downloaded some 97,540 well data files, 1,913 2D seismic files, and 559 3D seismic files.

In the right hands, the dataset is intended to provide insight into the evolution and future potential of exploration and production (E&P) on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) through interpretation of public well, geophysical, field, and infrastructure data—spanning from the birth of the North Sea as a petroleum province to the present.

At least one operator is already taking the opportunity to use the database to search for prospective acreage. The NDR “adds momentum to Talon Petroleum’s push into the North Sea,” said Matthew Worner, director at West Perth, Australia-based Talon, as he took to Twitter following the repository’s unveiling. The company’s purchase this year of “specialist UK explorer” EnCounter Oil has it “well positioned to use the data from this release to identify exploration targets in future licensing rounds,” he said.

Worner’s comments are an encouraging sign for the OGA, whose purpose for the release is to help renew interest in exploration and development and stimulate innovation on the UKCS, said Nic Granger, director of corporate at the OGA. “In terms of who we're targeting, we're looking to encourage inward investment into the UKCS,” she told JPT.

Important, Granger noted, is that the data are “being opened up for the first time to organizations that aren't operators,” namely those involved in the supply chain and technology innovators experimenting with machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The OGA is further promoting collaboration on technology development with the May launch of its UKCS technology portal. It allows operators to share lessons learned on technology deployment and facilitates engagement with the supply chain and tech firms to address development opportunities.

Data-Sharing Emphasis 

Information sharing—namely data sharing—is one of the OGA’s top priorities. Since it was established in 2015, the OGA has made available seismic data, digital well logs, geological mapping, and various kinds of reports from the field.

The regulator has a portfolio of prospects that goes back decades thanks to early data-collection efforts by the British Geological Survey, said Nick Richardson, head of exploration and new ventures at the OGA, during a recent exploration-focused OGA podcast. “We’re going to try and make as much of that information as openly accessible as possible so that companies can look at it and derive new insights,” he said. 

Both the OGA and NDR are products of the Wood Review, a 2014 report by Wood Group founder and North Sea pioneer Sir Ian Wood that made recommendations intended to boost economic recovery from the UKCS. Rolling out the NDR “is kind of the final milestone of several years’ worth of work leading up to this point,” Granger said.

Data in the NDR are created by North Sea petroleum licensees during E&P work. When data are generated, licensees are required to report that information to the OGA in accordance with a schedule set out by the agency that varies depending on the different types of data. New data are uploaded on a daily basis. “There's also data that we've purchased directly and seismic data, for example, which we put into the NDR as well,” added Granger.

NDR data are still owned by the licensees that generated the data, which differs from the OGA’s Open Data site, established in 2016, that consists of data owned by the OGA. The agency has used data from its Open Data site to create and release products such as interactive dashboards with information on licensing rounds.

Spotting an appraisal well for the BP-operated Clair field west of Shetland on an NDR interactive map. Once users find their target, they can take a deeper dive into field, well, and license data. Source: UK National Data Repository.

Data Management

Granger said that one of the main challenges undertaken by the OGA has been, where possible, filling the gaps of missing data in the NDR. “We’ve got a compliance team that are working with industry to try and backfill that historic data to get the dataset as complete as possible,” Granger said.

But there are bound to be some holes given the proprietary nature of certain data. For example, the agency must comply with regulations mandating confidentiality periods after data are reported by operators. That data, still stored in the NDR, are not available to the public.

Complete or not, users can only extract value if the data are reliably accessed through hardware and software that is capable of accommodating 130 terabytes and counting. “The current technical solution is based on the former UK oil and gas data service that was operated by [data management agency] Common Data Access, which is part of Oil and Gas UK, the industry representative body in the UK,” she explained.

The system is hosted on a private cloud platform. Some of the data are stored online, while some of the large batches of 3D seismic data can be ordered on a hard drive through the NDR interface. “We're trying to make it as user friendly as possible,” she said.

“We're open to ideas in terms of what data should be released going forward,” Granger added. “If there are different types [of data] that people think could be of use to the industry, and on a wider basis, then get in touch with us. Let us know. We're keen to listen.”

Toggling through a database of Apache-contracted 2D seismic surveys that were conducted between 1984 to 1995. Users can glean contractor, project, and license information before viewing seismic lines. Source: UK National Data Repository.

What Can Be Accomplished

Exploration leaders of larger operators have also shown a strong interest in the NDR. Jenny Morris, Equinor head of exploration, UK and Ireland, said during the OGA podcast that the NDR's real value will be seen through the ideas generated by those who interpret the data, leading to new prospects. In other words, the NDR will be a catalyst for geoscience teams to unleash their creativity.

Mohamed-Amine Soudani, Total exploration manager, said the UK industry is “blessed” to be in a mature basin given all the data that have been collected there over the decades. This was the story with Total’s Glendronach discovery west of Shetland in 2018, which has estimated recoverable resources of 175 million BOE. The operator’s geoscience team gleaned “weak signals” from existing data and eventually uncovered a new play, he said. 

Speaking more broadly of the industry-wide digital transformation, Morris noted there are still hurdles to fully leveraging digital technologies—one being that those with data at their fingertips aren’t always the first to embrace the resource.

“I think a lot of our geoscientists are potentially feeling a little bit threatened by what’s coming, and I don’t think they should at all,” Morris said. “We are going to need geoscientists. It’s just going to enable them to do things better and faster in the future. But I don’t think we should be concerned that we’re not going to have geoscientists in the future.”

Discomfort with data owned by companies can manifest amid a lack of clarity as to who can access the data and what data can be shared. Richardson said he’d “like to get to a place where ownership of data is not seen as a competitive advantage.

“Now maybe to get there, we have to do some different things in terms of how we go about acquiring the data,” he said. “But if we can then make the data as open as possible, get it into many hands, then we get lots of minds looking at it and lots of ideas generated.”

Richardson added that digital technologies are “often not as proprietary as people think,” and while companies have evolved quickly when it comes to data sharing, much more is yet to be accomplished.

Morris said, “There is a lot of effort and energy by all companies in the basin at the moment really embracing data and digital technologies. But I often wonder, are we doing enough together? Are we all doing things separately? And should we actually collaborate more and share more of our ideas?

“I can’t help thinking, we’re all doing the same stuff, putting all of our energy into it. What if we came together?” she said. “I’m sure we could do a lot more.”