Scanned In

The Kentucky Geological Survey launched a free, statewide, Web-accessible database of oil and gas records taken from paper images in the archive.

by , / July 29, 2003
In June, the Kentucky Geological Survey was putting the finishing touches on a massive overhaul of its system for storing oil, gas, coal and water records. The KGS, a state research and public service agency at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, is the archive and public library for all oil, gas, coal and water records in the state.

Before KGS updated its record storage system, anyone requiring information from those records had to travel to KGS offices in Lexington or Henderson, or request paper copies by mail, costing the agency and its constituents time and money.

On July 29, 2002, KGS launched a free, statewide, Web-accessible database website of oil and gas well records containing images from the paper archive. The system provides 24-hour, free online access to 1.3 million digital images of well records in Kentucky. The images can be viewed, printed, copied, exported or saved onto a PC in an office, home or library.

Using either text- or map-based search engines, users can quickly locate records that contain all documents related to a specific well. They can get specific header information and view records associated with each data point.

Rick Bender, director of the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas, said because the division's staff members must frequently review past records to perform their duties, the new online system will make their jobs easier and faster.

"The online access allows the staff to perform this task quickly and efficiently, thereby reducing costs and saving taxpayer dollars," he said. "Our field inspectors, located throughout the state, now have direct access to the records and no longer need to contact the Frankfort office for paper copies. This is a tremendous tool to assist them in their inspection duties."

The system is also a boon for those in the private sector who need access.

"The new online database is a godsend to our industry," said D. Michael Wallen, president of the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association. "It will assist not only small operators who now do not have to travel to Lexington to retrieve data, but large operators as well."

Wallen also said accessing the data online is cost efficient and saves time generating new prospects for wells.

Spreadable Wealth
Though the Web site was designed to serve the geologic community, its technology is applicable to a much broader audience, KGS officials said. Displaying the contents of a room of filing cabinets via a Web interface allows government agencies, libraries and service industries to provide a higher level of service with much less overhead.

The system also saves KGS the administrative cost of pulling, copying and refiling records, while providing a permanent archive of the records, whose preservation is important.

Digital images of complete paper records are more valuable than information normally captured in a database because most database information is simply a synopsis of paper record contents, according to KGS officials. Paper records often contain graphical images that cannot be properly represented in a traditional database.

Many records include geophysical logs -- which are similar to medical EKGs and record critical rock properties and indicate findings at different depths in a well -- that can be as long as 110 feet.

Graphical data are always subject to interpretation, which is difficult to translate into a traditional database.

Then and Now
When the project began under the direction of Donald Haney, state geologist from 1978 to 1999, KGS did not foresee a platform such as the World Wide Web for image access.

"We began scanning records archived in file cabinet drawers 20 years ago to preserve them from loss, wear and tear," Haney said. "We believed serving the records would be possible, even though at that time the technology we required was not yet available."

Now, however, the necessary memory, disk space and processing power are affordable for most users. Originally KGS envisioned a large "jukebox" hooked to a minicomputer that served graphic terminals located throughout the building. Today users can store all documents on their laptops and take them to the field.

The project also began as two major initiatives: creating a database of record header information, and scanning documents contained in each record. Each paper record was given a unique record number and stored in a manila envelope. Since people were accustomed to using this filing system, the goal was to preserve this format in the electronic version. Each document in the record was considered a "page," which could vary from postcard size to letter, legal, tabloid and larger. About 98 percent of documents are black and white, and the rest are color.

Project funding was limited. Other than one new clerical position and some startup equipment, no new funds were available to outsource any scanning. KGS had to find ways to efficiently scan the more than 1 million documents with minimum staffing. Another consideration was lack of money for immediate availability of scanned images. Time was therefore on the project's side and proved to be a blessing in the long term.

Image Access' BSCAN software was chosen for scanning because it was easy to modify and adapt to KGS' needs, and provided multiple applications to quickly acquire images, automate file naming and catalog the different document types. Although bar code labeling each document was considered innovative at the time, a bar code could not be placed at the same location on each type of document.

BSCAN finds the bar code on the scanned image then uses the information from the code to generate an image file name. The operator presses one key to catalog the document type, makes the appropriate entry into the image database and saves the image to disk.

Accessing Images
By the time all records were scanned and cataloged, it was obvious the Internet was the best technology for accessing the images, but there was still a major hurdle with image size and access speed. In addition, keeping together documents associated with a single record was very important.

KGS decided to convert the stored TIFF images stored to Lizardtech's website DjVu image format, which is engineered for very high compression and displays documents efficiently on the Web. Since funding was limited, KGS needed a relatively simple development tool to batch load millions of scanned TIFF images into a usable system.

The solution was simpler than many people imagined -- Microsoft Access with Visual Basic for applications generated batch commands to drive the DjVu image conversion application. Since information for each scanned image is in a SQL Server database, it was easy to pull together related documents, determine their order in the file and run the conversion routine.

The converted documents are stored in a directory with the same name as the original record number. DjVu allows for the creation of a master document named for the record number that, in turn, points to all associated images in the record.

Getting Technical
The user initially downloads a thumbnail view of each page in the record. A specific page is not downloaded to the browser until the user decides to view, print or copy it. On average, DjVu compressed the black and white images almost 50 percent more than the corresponding compressed TIFF files, and the color images were reduced between 65 percent and 85 percent.

This ability, coupled with small file size, is invaluable to users with dial-up access. Swapping out a single document within a record is easy if a better copy or correction is needed. The DjVu images are a backup to the archive since the paper copies can be reproduced with minimal resolution loss (the original TIFF images are also stored on multiple copies of CD-ROMs).

Since most users can print the documents from their Web browsers, making copies at KGS has dwindled. Many users, however, still want copies of the long documents in their original format rather than page-size segments.

"We save an enormous amount of time because we do not have to pull or re-file the records," said Theola Evans, who is primarily responsible for the KGS record room. "All I need to do now is tell the computer which records I want printed, and I am finished."

For a small fee, users can get a copy of the entire archive in DjVu format on a 60 GB hard drive. This is equivalent to more than 550 file drawers of documents.

Other types of paper records, including those for water wells, coal quality and well borings, have recently been converted into similar Web-accessible formats. Online public access enables users to search for and retrieve data and information previously provided by research staff.

"Any time we can free up our staff to do geologic research, Kentucky benefits in efficiency and economic development," said KGS Director Jim Cobb. "The public benefits by having easy 24-hour, anywhere-in-the-world access to these valuable records."

Steven Cordiviola is head of the Geoscience Information Section of the KGS.
Carol Ruthven is the manager of Communications and Technology Transfer for the KGS.
Carol Ruthven Contributing Writer
Steven Cordiviola Contributing Writer