Distributing the Benefits from GIS|
By Monica Pratt, ArcUser Editor
Geologists and geophysicists who work in ARCO's exploration, engineering, and environmental departments and the technicians who support them need to access volumes of data as well as to generate a variety of maps that display geologic and seismic data, well locations, and other geographically referenced information for identifying, developing, and managing oil producing sites.
Scott Sitzman, a GIS analyst for ARCO, developed an extension to ArcView GIS that not only gives these users ready access to the data they need but speeds and improves the quality of the maps they create. Sitzman and Pamela Kersh, also a GIS analyst at ARCO, developed the training, documentation, and online help that made users readily accept the new system and helped them quickly become productive with it.
GIS for Oil Companies: A Natural Fit
The oil industry is a natural fit for GIS. Many aspects of this business have a strong spatial component. Geographically based data threads through the entire process from drilling to facilities planning to marketing and site remediation. Though data acquisition starts during the exploration phase, GIS use was initially confined to the environmental department. By applying GIS only at the end, this part of the process bore a disproportionate share of the cost of developing information that could benefit the entire process. Using GIS at the beginning with the exploration phase would be much more beneficial to the entire company. Data could be transferred through departments and properties could be managed in a spatially aware manner.
ARCO, incorporated as the Atlantic Richfield Company, has a global presence that encompasses both the exploration and production (E&P) and the refining and marketing (R&M) aspects of the oil business. E&P operations center mainly in Alaska, midcontinent in the United States, China, Indonesia, Algeria, Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea. R&M operations include two refineries and over 1,700 retail gasoline outlets in six western states in the United States and in British Columbia, Canada. To be competitive, ARCO must manage vast amounts of data processed in many industry-specific software packages with proprietary formats.
The realization that putting GIS upstream in the process would benefit data management occurred at a time when ARCO needed to move from a mainframe to a workstation environment. The benefits offered by GIS in a distributed setting were used to justify the development of a generic solution with GIS instead of an industry-specific software purchase.
The move to use GIS in the explorations group actually started in 1995 with an application created using ArcView and incorporating ArcTools mapmaking functionality. Though this first system was cumbersome, it demonstrated the potential of using GIS to manage databases and create maps. Users were resistant to the first system not only because it was difficult to use but also because the familiar mainframe system had not been phased out.
A Customized ArcView GIS Solution
In April 1997, Sitzman moved from the Environmental Assessment and Litigation Support Department to the International Exploration Department. During the five years he worked in the environmental department, he used ArcInfo to conduct resource assessment projects. By August 1997, he was working on what would become ARCOView.
He realized he could build a complete solution for database management and mapping by developing an ArcView GIS extension that was tailored to the needs of ARCO users. Connections to some of the existing software had been developed by the previous GIS project, but all the mapping and interface customization was performed by Sitzman. Just three months later, in November 1997, the application was in beta testing and was refined using feedback from high-end users. Kersh developed a comprehensive support system for users that consists of half-day training classes, telephone-based technical support, a users manual, and ARCOView-specific online help.
What Is ARCOView?
ARCOView is the database management and mapping system for the exploration, engineering, and environmental departments at ARCO. The work on this extension was funded and developed internally by ARCO's International Exploration IT organization.
The ArcView GIS graphical user interface was extended to provide five main areas of functionality.
Hardware was purchased to support ARCOView. In the beginning of 1999, demand for the application necessitated upgrading to a Sun Server Enterprise 4000 with 2 GB of RAM, six 336 MHz UltraSPARC II processors, and three storage arrays with a total capacity of 146 GB. This server is connected to Sun Ultra and Silicon Graphics workstations and PC workstation Xterminals running Exceed.
- Standardized map generation simple enough for casual users
- Integration with currently utilized software such as OpenWorks, GeoFrame, and Z-MAP Plus
- Data import and export functions
- Separate seismic navigational data management
- Miscellaneous utilities for projection, data conversion, and data automation
Though ARCOView was initially developed primarily for the geologists, geophysicists, and technicians in the exploration department, engineering has used it for pipeline planning and cost calculations, and the environmental department has used it to document sites they manage. The application was designed and implemented to support casual as well as daily users.
ARCOView has been adopted by a variety of other users in the company. The data center workers use ARCOView to perform quality assurance functions by looking at current inventory, typically maintained as paper records, and verifying that these records match the electronic database information. This ensures that all the data is consistently named and cataloged. This is a very important function and one that has generated many users for ARCOView.
The competitive intelligence department uses ARCOView to keep track of the scouting reports on various competitor sites so the company knows where competitors are drilling, what they have found, whether they are looking for partners, and any other pertinent information. Since the quarterly reports generated by this department consist of a series of maps displaying the information they have uncovered, ARCOView was a natural tool for them. Employees in this department input data as well as access other databases in the company.
A small group of high-end users exploit ARCOView for decision support. They use ARCOView to perform analyses such as summarizing the number of wells in a lease, looking at the drilling history of a well, or estimating market demand in a region. The ability of ARCOView to directly read or import data from many sources makes it a very valuable tool for this group.
Centralized Data Access
Integration with currently used software has made ARCOView widely accepted and used within ARCO. The ability to directly transfer data between other software applications, or indirectly through the use of special import/export programs, was key to making ARCOView not only a mapping system, but a geographic database management solution.
ARCO's users need access to large amounts of data that are kept or processed in a variety of oil industry standard software programs. The Data Dictionary, accessed from the View menu, lists 1,000 data sets. Many of these data sets contain multiple themes. For example, choosing the geologic maps data set for Indonesia will pull up 8 to 10 related themes. Data sets include purchased data as well as data obtained through consortium work, from private contracts, the public domain, or derived from scanned literature maps. The Data Dictionary's interface makes selecting data that is managed by the system administrator easy, and it displays the available metadata for each data set.
Working With Industry Software Packages
ARCOView connects to all the major software packages used at ARCO in the form of direct read/write capability or import and export functionality. The Data Import and Data Export menus directly link users to this functionality through choices for specific formats and data types. PetroConsultants S.A., part of the IHS Energy Group, is a major source of world exploration information and is a big component of ARCOView. OPENWORKS from Landmark Graphics and GeoFrame from Schlumberger Limited are two other major programs that ARCOView accesses. Z-MAP from Zycor, Inc., is widely used in the oil industry for contouring horizons or sedimentary layers. ARCOView can write directly to Z-MAP master files, read the contours created by Z-MAP, and create a shapefile from them. Prior to the release of ARCOView, users would import data into Z-MAP and do mapping as well as contouring from that application. Now users typically perform contouring operations then use ARCOView for mapping because it allows access to other databases and makes it easier to create maps that comply with ARCO's mapping standards.
Managing Seismic Data
The seismic navigation data, crucial to exploration operations, is stored in an ArcInfo library that is very tightly integrated with ARCOView. A separate ArcView GIS application originally developed by Eagle Mapping of Houston, Texas, manages the seismic navigational database. A dedicated database administrator maintains and modifies the worldwide seismic data. Users cannot change anything in this database, but they can copy data out. The Seismic User menu in ARCOView provides tools for export, import, display, and manipulation of this data and report generation.
Ensuring Quality Maps
Users need to create maps. The original mainframe mapping system presented users with a series of text screens with very limited choices for creating maps and no feedback before the map was created. Since mapping is very often a reiterative process, users were frustrated by the old system. However, users accustomed to this restrictive mainframe mapping environment would have been overwhelmed by the tremendous flexibility in map creation offered by ArcView GIS. Sitzman created a way to guide users. Choosing the Build a Layout button displays a series of dialog boxes that walks the user through the steps in creating a hard-copy map.
These maps need to meet ARCO's mapping standards. The company has developed mapping standards that reflect good cartographic practice. All maps must have scales, titles, creation dates, and other basic information. ARCOView programmatically includes these standards, making it much easier for users to produce informative maps that comply with company standards. "The whole process was infinitely easier for them. They can push a button and their title block is in the right place," says Sitzman.
The Area of Interest (AOI) menu offers prebuilt functions that calculate a full suite of projection and datum parameters in addition to defining the area needed to create a map. Coverages, shapefiles, and images can all be reprojected. The AOI function constrains the number of map tiles accessed in the ArcStorm libraries used for several of the data sources. Users can define an AOI by drawing a rectangle on a world map or by entering latitude and longitude coordinate information.
The improvement in mapmaking has been especially helpful to the technicians that support the geologists and geophysicists, who are now more willing to make their own maps. This frees technicians for other tasks. Even the philosophy of mapmaking as being a "graphics department" function has changed. With the sophisticated cartography tools provided by ArcView GIS, many users find they do not need to bring the plot files into a graphics package and perform final polishing edits--they can make all the necessary changes in ARCOView.
Help for Common Tasks and Casual Users
The last set of functionality added by ARCOView is a set of utilities for miscellaneous conversions, calculations, or processing that is available from the Utilities menu. These functions help users with specific tasks they occasionally need to perform. Most of these menu items come from sample scripts written by Esri and incorporated into the ARCOView extension for completeness.
In addition to the online help that comes with ArcView GIS, ARCOView has separate online help that contains tutorials, a cookbook describing the menus and buttons added to ArcView GIS, and a list of supported projections in spreadsheet format that includes information such as datum, ellipsoid, and data source. A mechanism that provides user feedback is built into the help menu. Users can submit a report that describes a bug, proposed enhancement, performance problem, or documentation error.
The user community at ARCO has embraced ARCOView. By providing access to a multitude of databases in a variety of proprietary formats, built-in task-specific functionality, meaningful training and help, and full-time support, the application has gained far greater acceptance and wider use than was originally expected. Users feel comfortable experimenting and pushing ARCOView to the limits. Employees at ARCO who need to locate the available data for a certain area of the world; analyze trends in geology, culture, or petroleum activity; or simply make a map can do so easily.