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New App Helps Officials, First Responders in 9 States Find Well Locations and Their Histories

The new, free Risk Based Data Management System WellFinder app is addressing calls for increased transparency and safety.

by / June 21, 2017
Oil rigs in western North Dakota, which is facing a projected $1 billion shortfall. AP/Matthew Brown

Curious about the new pumpjack going into a certain neighborhood or wondering who owns the disused well site near your drilling operation? The oil and gas industry has an app for that.

Risk Based Data Management System (RBDMS) WellFinder, a mobile application from the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), launched in May 2017.

This latest offering from GWPC, a nonprofit organization with members from state and groundwater regulatory agencies, is designed to capitalize on the online migration of oil and gas agencies nationwide that are scanning decades of well ownership and regulatory documents by addressing calls for increased transparency and safety.

Oklahoma was first to pilot the app, which is a free download for Apple and Android users, but regulatory agencies in eight other states including Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi and New York have since teamed with the app to enable access to their well data.

Anyone with a smartphone can download the app but, for now, only data from those nine states — also including Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho and Nebraska — is accessible.

As more states join, their data will follow, enabling users to search API or permit numbers; well types whether oil, gas or injection; whether wells are active or plugged; production data; and regulatory, operator and emergency contacts.

“WellFinder was originally designed for public information so that if you’re driving down the road or there’s a new well popping up across the street, what well is that? It was originally designed for that, but inspectors are using it now to help navigate to the well sites, because oil and gas wells don’t have street addresses,” Paul Jehn, RBDMS national project manager and GWPC technical director, told Government Technology.

The app helps field inspectors — who once had to carry data with them out in the field — as well as industry members and residents, all of whom share an interest in having the data be publicly available.

“People are concerned about injection wells. Everybody wants to make sure we’re doing things as environmentally sound as we can," Jehn added. "All these tools are designed to help managers in oil and gas agencies manage the resource, produce oil and gas in an environmentally sound manner, and actually follow up on compliance."

Main screen for the Ground Water Protection Council's new Risk Based Data Management System WellFinder app.

The app’s instant, virtual access should save the industry money by enabling employees to work remotely but — similar to the publicizing of other data streams — is also expected to generate cost efficiencies for state officials through a projected drop in public information requests.

“In the end, that also helps them be better regulators because they have a lot of data that they can track and rely on to make better decisions,” said Erica Carr, communications consultant for the Oklahoma-based GWPC.

The app updates wellsite inspection information in real time, or once inspectors are in range of a cell signal. But it also better enables first responders — who haven’t always had access to the same data as industry professionals, but can now locate details quickly during an emergency.

“This is part of a continuing effort to put more information into the public’s hands. This will be a work in progress that will continue to yield dividends,” said Dana Murphy, commissioner of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which spearheaded the recent Oklahoma pilot.

Stan Belieu, a steering committee member at the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission, an early WellFinder adopter and one of the original states to use RBDMS around 25 years ago, agreed that the app’s transparency is notable, but said its empowerment of first responders is significant.

“I think the whole country’s excited. All the RBDMS states and other oil- and gas-producing states are looking at that,” Belieu told Government Technology, noting there’s also anticipation around a partnership between the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and GWPC to create a similar product unique to the state.

The Well Statewide Tracking and Reporting system (WellSTAR), a centralized management system for California wells that leverages RBDMS data, is expected to begin development, testing and training on its first release phase later this summer.

State-level agencies like their county and municipal counterparts are continually asked to do more with less, Belieu said — which makes the inherent connectivity of WellFinder and other online RBDMS products a genuine boon.

“Our Information Technology guy, if he’s got an issue, he can pick up the phone and call the IT guy in Colorado. It’s the networking that matters as much as anything,” Belieu added.

Other offerings from RBDMS have included a desktop app that connects real-time U.S. Geological Survey seismic data with state-level injection well data; and ePermit, its online application process developed in Cold Fusion. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation uses ePermit for oil and gas well permitting, and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining uses it for oil and gas well permitting, and pre-drilling site evaluations.

An additional data stream that Jehn said may come to WellFinder in the future is an accounting of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a way of stimulating wells by breaking up rock deposits with pressurized liquids. It’s currently available from the Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry and linked by RBDMS.

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Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.

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