By Matt Kelso – Data Manager, Center for Healthy Environments & Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
A new dataset of drilled oil and gas locations in Utah has been added to FracTracker’s DataTool (click on the snapshot of that dataset to the left to see more detail). This dataset was pursued in order to obtain more data from other shale gas fields throughout the United States. However, despite the fact that there are shale gas fields in the state, a correspondence with Utah’s Oil and Gas Permitting Manager/Petroleum Geologist Brad Hill has led to the revelation that there are currently no shale gas wells in the state. On the other hand, he indicated that most vertical and horizontal wells in Utah undergo some amount of hydrofracturing process, making the data relevant to our pursuits here at FracTracker.
Dissemination of Information
From the perspective of trying to obtain meaningful data about oil and gas operations, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is wonderful resource. Just to give an indication of the breadth of the scope of what they have to offer, go to the Oil and Gas Well Log Search, set the three boxes to “API Well Number”, “LIKE”, and “43” (which is Utah’s state code), and you get a list of wells in the state, complete with associated well logs that can be viewed and downloaded. In Pennsylvania, you would have to file a Right to Know claim to get access to some of these documents. The small sample of scanned source documents that I have looked at in Utah has included typewritten notices from the 1960’s. One of the files had over 30 pages of documents.
In addition to having an abundance of information on their site, the workers that I have dealt with at the Division of Oil, Mining, and Gas have been extremely useful in obtaining additional information. My initial query to Don Staley of that department was replied to within 20 minutes, and he contacted the Petroleum Geologist of his own volition to make sure that the information that was given to me was clear. They have set the standard for public service by a governmental regulatory agency, as far as I am concerned. Texas was also helpful, but only some of their information is available free of charge.
Most people are familiar to some extent with the basic longitude and latitude system. The grid that the two values combine to make, known as a graticule, allows for the identification of unique locations on the planet. It is not, however, the only means of identifying unique locations.
A system used by Utah and by many of the other western states is known as the Public Land Survey System, or PLSS. This system was conceptualized by Thomas Jefferson and dates to the Land Ordinace Act of 1785. In essence, it creates a series of six-mile wide horizontal bands known as Townships, and six-mile vertical bands called Ranges. These intersect to create a six-by-six mile box (see image right), with a name of something like “Township 5 North”, “Range 8 West.” This is further divided into 36 sections, each one-mile square. This can be further subdivided into quarters, and then quarters of that, so that a location could be recorded as the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Township 5 North, Range 8 West, Section 5 (or NE1/4 of SE1/4 of T5N, R8W, Sec. 5 for short).
This discussion is relevant here because in parts of the Utah Oil and Gas website, location information comes up in this format. To obtain the locations for the drilled wells in the state, it required a convoluted process of finding a map of the 1-by-1 mile section boxes, then finding the midpoint of those boxes with GIS tools, and finally correlating those points to the original dataset. Since the midpoint of a 1-by-1 mile box is about 0.70 miles to each corner, that is the margin of error for the location of these datapoints. For most uses, that shouldn’t matter.
After completing these conversions, I have found elsewhere on the site latitude and longitude data, as well as Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) values, which is yet another means of finding unique places on Earth. I have not yet determined whether that has all of the information from the dataset that has been posted, but if so, then more accurate location information will follow shortly.