Just because information is public, doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. This is especially true when it comes to something as esoteric as oil and gas well data.
Joel Gehman, assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s business school, wanted to make public information about oil and gas wells easier to find and use, Lisa Song of InsideClimate News reports.
So he started a project to collect drilling data from state agencies – like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – gather it together in an easy-to-search database, and invite the public to add notes, observations and anecdotes.
From the InsideClimate News article:
This combination of automated data and user-added content from local stakeholders is where WellWiki’s real power lies, Gehman said.
We want to create “a very rich experience around any well, community or operator” that users are interested in, he said.
Right now, WellWiki serves Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, but Gehman hopes to expand nationwide.
How does WellWiki work?
WellWiki’s “About” page includes charming gems like, “The pages are assembled by having a wikibot crawl and scrape a MySQL database.” Basically, WellWiki pulls in data from state web pages, organizes it so it’s in a consistent format, and refreshes it automatically.
What kind of information can you find on WellWiki?
Because WellWiki organizes drilling data, whether you live in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio, you can search by county, or the name of an operator, and find information about where wells are, how much they produce, and the results of their inspections.
For example, if you search for Encana, a major oil and gas company, you’ll find information about where Encana is located, plus a list of its wells. (Compare that to having to go to each state’s oil and gas monitoring agency – individually – and searching for Encana wells.)
And if you click on one of those wells, you’ll see where it is on a map, how it fared on its inspections, how much oil or gas it’s producing, and how much waste is coming out of it.
But here’s where it gets really good. If you happen to live near a well and know something about it – you read about a leak in the local paper, perhaps, or you started getting sick – you could add that information to the well’s page. That’s what an editor did for this leaky well in Dimock, Pennsylvania:
Anyone can add information. All you just have to sign up.
As you can imagine, this could lead to conflict and disagreement. But with a wiki, which encourages open discussion, that’s kind of the point.
Taking matters into their own hands
WellWiki isn’t the only example of a citizen-driven energy information project. In Washington state, residents are monitoring crude oil trains in real time using a website and a Twitter hashtag.
When it comes to information, you can wait for it, or you can go out and get it.