Data sovereignty and the control of the subsurface data is an all important role of the nation state.
Sovereignty is a well-known word these days and in common usage with initiatives in association with royalty, political movements and the desire for self-rule. The dictionary definition defines it as ‘supreme power or authority’ or ‘the authority of a state to govern itself or another state.’
In the context of our discussion here, we shall consider sovereignty to be control as applied to data and more precisely subsurface data.
To openly expose subsurface data has the potential to diminish its value or technical interest and potentially reduce the overall interest in the area concerned. Subsurface data within a country boundary has a clear ownership and the same could be said of data within the defined and accepted continental shelf for marine acreage. Less clear, however, and involving some collaboration between nations can be basin boundaries where the geology and sedimentology can provide the information to define the creation of the basin and its ownership.
E&P Data Across National Borders
The control of subsurface data and its release can be particularly sensitive in border areas where two or more countries meet. The acquisition or exposure of information to an adjacent country border area can lead to border disputes or some undesirable acquisition and production practices; especially if the prize is large. The proximity and cross-border nature of some basins and fields has resulted in nation partnerships or the establishment of ‘joint authorities’ which have a collective responsibility for the development of assets that straddle the border.
As well as the subsurface, the control of information relating to the nation’s infrastructure is another important consideration. Platform and pipeline data is not generally available, and the accuracy of publicly released information is normally confined to general proximity, with more accurate data restricted on a need-to-know basis.
In the wrong hands, certain data types have the potential to represent a physical threat; for example piracy, insurgency or physical exploitation.
Subsurface Data Value and Protection
The value of subsurface data to a nation is incalculable on the day – consider the giant discoveries made in recent years, often after many years of exploration. As the technology and integration of the data allows the data to be viewed across disciplines and holistically, the resultant understanding can be deeper, and the value of the data increases.
The nation needs to collate and capture the legacy and recently acquired subsurface data. The state is often unable to support the full cost of exploration programs and unlikely to have all of the required skills and resources. As a result, the availability and access to the data for the use of the exploration investors is critical.
The key here is the availability and access; not just a statement that you have it, but that it is complete, organised and accessible and can be delivered within hours – not weeks or months! The new exploration company entrant will have invested heavily and made some significant commitment to the government or national oil company (NOC) to acquire further seismic and drill a well or two. Not delivering the data in a timely manner places the investor at a disadvantage since it will restrict the full and accurate understanding, thereby delaying any decision. This is a very real penalty to the successful completion of the technical appraisal, which will inevitably impact the desired goals and overall economic viability. Both parties lose!
Managing Data Volumes on a National Scale
As the oil companies become more efficient and demanding, looking to achieve their production goals and reserves replenishment objectives, so the NOC’s and their National Data Repositories (NDRs) need to be able to make subsurface data available and deliver it in a timely manner.
To achieve this they need to collate, organise, index and manage their legacy and newly acquired data. In addition, it is highly advantageous if this can be done for the entire portfolio of subsurface data: seismic, wells, navigation, observers and acquisition reports, aeromagnetic, gravity and magnetic data, plus all available digital or physical maps, sections, core, samples, etc. There is a wealth of data there.
The work and investment to achieve this is not insignificant, but it represents a very real and valuable investment. Many countries have embarked upon this work and established an NDR. It is true that the success of these programs for some has been mixed and dependent on a mix of factors which is beyond the scope of this review.
A consideration for the success of an NDR is the allocation of the available budget directly to the resources required to work on the capture and indexing of the data. Loading the data to the database will provide a complete view of the data and will allow the timely delivery of data sets to the exploration company. The solution should also provide tools for the analysis and identification of data deficiencies so that further investigation can be targeted to complete the data set. National initiatives can avoid major capital investments in software and hardware by adopting a services approach, which permits funds to be applied directly to resources for data capture, organisation, management and preservation of subsurface data.
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