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Maps belong in a GIS

Successful exploration programs depend on good decisions being made as soon as possible. Simple enough, but without efficient ways to evaluate and communicate the complex parameters surrounding exploration risk it can be very challenging indeed. Fortunately, there are many software tools available to the industry that make such decisions not only possible but relatively easy. One such tool has been used to solve problems of this type by many other geospatial disciplines for decades — the Geographical Information System or GIS.

A GIS is a computer system capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced information. It works in much the same way as an Information System one might find at a bank or hotel, only, in addition to referencing an account or file number, information is also referenced to a point on the surface of the earth. This spatial awareness allows the user to perform tasks impossible to achieve with charts and lists.

Although the GIS is a ubiquitous fixture in the energy industry, it is generally poorly understood and rarely applied with effectiveness. Even basic geoprocessing (the sort of functionality that leads to good decision making) tends to be clumsy in the industry-oriented application suite. To say that the GIS has not realized its potential in E&P is a gross understatement. Software developers have not yet successfully closed the rift between the geoscientist and GIS. The reasons for this failure include:

  • A significant technology gap between geoscience practitioners and their tools.
  • A reluctance to adopt digital workflows and numerical techniques.
  • A lack of awareness of how a GIS can be applied to a given problem.

Geologists, who probably stand to benefit from a GIS more that any other geoscientists, are often the most reluctant GIS users. This has to change. Here are eight reasons to start using a GIS:

  1. Capture and storage of data. Scientific studies — core analysis and description, petrographic interpretation, well tests, and so on — are often not integrated into a prospect evaluation because the geoscientist is unaware of the data’s existence, not comfortable with source uncertainty, or just does not have time to dig through dusty file folders. A GIS is a perfect place to capture and store these data.
  2. Interrogation of data. A great advantage a GIS enjoys over a regular database is functionality for map-based queries, which give you a means to intuitively interpret and synthesize spatial information while interrogating data. And like any properly organized database, there is effectively no limit to interrogating a spatial database. If you can think it up, it can be done.
  3. Data analysis. A GIS allows the user to simultaneously display point, vector (lines and polygons), and raster (continuous) data, which are called data overlays. Data overlays are particularly effective for qualitative analysis and illustration. A GIS also provides the user with tools for quantitative analysis, such as surface attribute calculation, map algebra, and geostatistics.
  4. Integration of interpretation. Interpretation culminates in a series of maps — seismic attributes, horizons and faults, petrophysical properties, stratigraphic gross depositional environments, and so on — describing prospectivity and geological risk. There is no better place to synthesize maps than a GIS.
  5. Validation. A technical model is based on spatially limited data. An interpreter extrapolates away from control points to predict the unknown. As new data is found or acquired, the model can be validated in a GIS.
  6. Workflow capture and automation. An interpreter spends a shocking amount of time on repetitive tasks. Thankfully button pushing in a GIS does not need to be one of those tasks. Workflows can be automated in a GIS with easy-to-use programming interfaces. This also ensures that a workflow is executed exactly the same way each time.
  7. Presentation-quality maps and graphics. The original GIS was developed by a cartographer. Production of beautiful maps has always been a principal objective of GIS. Good ones, such as ESRI’s ArcGIS or the open-source QGIS, allow the user exceptional authorship over cartography, including colour palette, line quality, font, and page layout for printing.
  8. Archiving. Maps and all of their supporting data and interpretation can be neatly organized in a GIS project. A well-organized map project reads like a report, with related material nested in a hierarchy of layer files. Archiving in this manner improves the chances of continuity and integration of technical work between teams in an organization.

There are alternatives to a GIS. However, no other information system — analog or digital — is as comprehensive a toolbox for making better decisions about spatial problems. Your maps belong in a GIS.

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