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

Carol Ruthven  |  Contributing Writer
Steven Cordiviola  |  Contributing Writer