In a recent presentation performed at the Professional Petroleum Data Management (PPDM) conference in Perth, I spoke about the problems explorers can have when an exploration area that has previously been out of favour, comes back into fashion.
Like all companies who enter a previously explored area, the first thing they do is assemble as much pre-existing data as possible. On the whole in Australia, the ability to source this data from various public sources is usually quite fruitful. However, whilst getting 90% of the data you need is a great start, it can often be the 10% that you can’t find that will make all the difference to your exploration efforts. The reasons behind this missing 10% are many and varied but usually fall into two main categories. The first of these two categories is bureaucratic in nature.
As some background, it was not until 1946 that a formal government body called the Bureau of Mineral Resources (BMR) was formed. The BMR had a general exploration view encompassing both minerals and petroleum The BMR later came to be known as AGSO, and then became Geoscience Australia. Through these various transitions, and with changes in its degree of control and mandate over exploration activities in Australia, data submission guidelines were created, modified and in many cases then handed over to other agencies. In 2012, a new agency (NOPTA) was formed and took over administration of petroleum acreage in Commonwealth waters from Geoscience Australia adding a new layer once again.
As time went on, and overlapping with the changes at the federal level, some states took control over their own state’s exploration activities, while others maintained a hands off approach. Data was going in different directions, some to federal agencies and some to states. Sometimes data went to both, and sometimes to neither creating holes in data sets desperately needed in contemporary exploration programmes. Depending on the state you were exploring in, whether your exploration area was on or off shore, and whether you were looking for minerals or oil and gas, you had a different government body that was interested in your activities and data.
One recent change in the oil industry has opened up a new previously unseen issue in locating historical exploration data. That change is the transition of oil companies to unconventional oil and gas targets like CSG. This transition has seen oil exploration companies looking to review data that might typically be associated with mineral exploration. With vast differences in data submission guidelines between petroleum and minerals, paired with changes in requirements at the state and federal level, many data sets needed by exploration companies cannot be found or there is simply uncertainty of where this data actually resides.
The second category of issue that has created this missing 10% cannot be blamed on bureaucracy and rests firmly on the industry itself. The government, with the best of intentions and much effort, cannot police everything and everyone. Even with the well written and clear submission guidelines in existence today, the government cannot always control issues such as companies going into receivership and not performing their submission, or mergers and acquisitions that created uncertainty as to what had been submitted by one party and who was responsible for it moving forward.
I think it would be safe to say that some companies simply ignored the policies and guidelines. Some then took the data overseas when they left or simply kept the data in a storage shed in the event that they might need it again later.
I guess my message to the industry is as follows - data submissions are necessary, good for the industry and are simply not that complicated. Various guidelines and online resources are available to assist with the process in each state and at the federal level. In addition, there are service companies and consultants who can assist where uncertainty in the process is required. As an industry we need to lift our game and get these valuable data assets back to the rightful owners on time. It is likely ourselves that will benefit from this when we need data in the future.