Exploration and production on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) has generated a mass of data over the years, which could be extremely useful for the development of future projects. Given the size of the data resource, however, extracting the most relevant information is proving to be a sizeable challenge.

"The British Geological Survey has been closely involved in gathering data from the UKCS."

Mining that data effectively requires significant effort and insight, but the first hurdle is getting access to the information itself. The British Geological Survey (BGS) has been closely involved in gathering data from the UKCS, and has been instrumental in making it available.

"One of the principle challenges for a small to medium-size oil company entering the UK Continental Shelf is identifying and gaining access to existing data," says Jeremy Giles, head of the National Geosciences Data Centre at the BGS. "Between 2000 and 2005, I was BGS programme manager for the development of the first versions of DEAL, which is a gateway to information on the UK offshore industry. The DEAL portal has helped, but there is still a considerable volume of data from previous studies that currently is not easily accessible.

"Under UK legislation, the licences are jointly and severally responsible for the ‘in perpetuity’ preservation of the data they collect under a licence. They are required to maintain the collected data in a form that is usable, accessible and reproducible. After they have relinquished a specific licence, they are still responsible for the data collection they created. In effect, data required by new entrants may not be available."

Data volume control

The first step in managing and effectively interpreting the deluge of data amassed during years of heavy investment into exploration of the UKCS – in the region of £58 billion – is to coordinate it into a central repository.

"This is a major investment that is unlikely to be repeated," says Giles. "The data created should be preserved so it can be used for oil and gas exploration by companies acquiring relinquished licences, as a teaching resource for future E&P professionals, for improving the understanding of the geology and natural resources of the UKCS, for academic research, to understand the potential for carbon sequestration within rock formation in the UKCS, and to guide future licensing of carbon sequestration facilities by an appropriate government body.

"The NHDA is a pilot initiative to help reduce costs, remove perpetual licence obligations and increase data availability for future exploration."

"To enable the reuse and re-purposing of the data collected during the exploration of the UKCS it has to have a safe permanent repository. BGS, working with DECC, has created the National Hydrocarbons Data Archive (NHDA), which is the primary, long-term data archive for the geoscientific legacy resulting from UK offshore oil and gas exploration and production activity. The data is made available from the archive at low cost to the public for commercial projects and academic research," he adds.

The NHDA is one component of the BGS National Geoscience Data Centre, the UK’s national long-term repository of geoscientific information, and is operated under an agreement with the DECC, which strongly encourages licensees to make the archiving of licence data with the NHDA a standard operating procedure as part of the relinquishment of a licence. In this way, licensees benefit from the input of the asset team before it is dispersed.

"The NHDA is a pilot initiative to help reduce costs, remove perpetual licence obligations, and increase data availability for future exploration," Giles explains. "UK legislation requires UKCS licensees to store most hydrocarbon exploration and production data types in perpetuity, even after licence relinquishment. Once the data is deposited in the archive, all the members of the licence group are relieved of their obligations for it."

Cultural revolution

Central data repositories such as this will be even more important in the years ahead, as the volume of information continues to grow, and Giles hopes that there will be a change in attitude.

"The first advance is the hope for a culture change that would make it easier for the private sector, public sector and academic community to share data easily," he says. "Mechanisms do exploit modern technologies. BGS has recently had the opportunity to photograph all of the UKCS borehole core that it holds and is releasing these images on the web at no cost to the user.

"Central data repositories will be even more important in the years ahead, as the volume of information continues to grow."

"E&P professionals have never before had access to a complete set of images of the core for the UKCS taken in uniform conditions with modern digital imaging. This is an example of the public sector creating a major resource for the private sector and academic community.

"A second advance would be more advanced intelligent data exploration tools. Data mining is the term often used, but other technologies also have real potential in this area; linked data is one such technology. Once a significant volume of data has been published to public triple-stores, there is real potential for ‘intelligent’ agents to be developed to create new knowledge by the navigation of multiple triple-stores. BGS is currently populating its first triple-store with lithological information, prior to its release later this year."

Clearly, the data is out there. The work that needs to be done is in bringing out its value.