Well. Aren’t you special?

This is the 3rd of a 3-part series on some of the high-level issues that come up around the data management aspect of oil and gas exploration and how we are working with the PPDM Association in actively looking at these issues.

Part 1 dealt with an overview of PPDM (both the Association and the Data Model).

In part 2 I looked at the work of the “What Is A Well” (WIAW) workgroup.

Now it is time to look at one of the most basic challenges in Data Management – Identity.

An Unique Challenge

Physically, a Well is a fairly complex entity that can change in a number of ways over time.  For a fairly interesting high-level look at the physical aspects, have a look at this site:


In part due to its physical complexity, a Well is also a very complex data modelling entity.  As I mentioned previously, within the PPDM Data Model, there are over 1700 tables and 43000 columns, and a significant number of those deal specifically with aspects of a Well through its entire life-cycle, from planning through Licensing/Permitting,  Drilling, Completion, Production and Operations, Abandonment and Reclamation.  The challenge for Data Managers is to be able to maintain the identity of the Well, through all its various aspects and phases. 

Of course Data Managers (and this problem) exist in more than just E&P companies.  Service companies, data vendors (like geoLOGIC), software makers (oooh, that would be us as well), and government regulators also have a similar problem.  How do you know that the thing that you are referring to is the same thing that someone else is referring to?  It is essentially for this reason that the UWI or Unique Well Identifier was created.

Unique <>Uniform

Of course, while the UWI may be called a Unique Well Identifier, it is not called a Uniform Well Identifier.  In North America alone there are no fewer than 4 distinct formats of UWI depending on geopolitical jurisdiction.  In the US you will see that the UWI is typically based on a version of the API D12A Well Numbering standard (defined by the American Petroleum Institute).  But, just as the language can vary from region to region (or even state to state) as seen in the difference in dialect between Boston and New Orleans, for example, the same can happen to the API identifier.  Each state has created a different version of the API number, and each change, while created for the best of reasons, means that the meaning of the elements that make up the API identifier are different from state to state.

In Canada, depending on jurisdiction you can find that the UWI is based on the CAPP DLS, NTS or FPS standards (defined by the Canadian Petroleum Association which has since become the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers).  In this case, the FPS version is used for Northern Canada and most Off-shore wells.  The NTS notation is used in most of BC, except for an area in Northeastern BC called the Peace River Block, where DLS is used.  DLS is also used in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  Again, as with the API, there are different dialects of the DLS notation, depending on which province is involved.

And, to make matters worse,  in all 4 main versions (formats, whatever), as it turns out, the UWI isn’t so Unique after all.

Unique <> Unique? What’s the problem here?

Well, the basic problem is that the various standards were created about 50 years ago, and technology has moved forward in such a way that there are cases where the structure of the UWI simply can’t accommodate the way that the wells can now be drilled.  Here are a couple examples (may more exist):

1)      With the current directional technology a number of unique wellbores can be drilled from a single surface pad (or location).  If there are more than 9 unique wellbores coming off a single pad, some of the formats of UWI will “break” since they consist of a single numeric character to accommodate this sort of situation (actually, in most cases the structure didn’t really anticipate this sort of drilling method so the element of the UWI that is being used to track these “legs” is actually really meant to track something else).

2)      With the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) wells (http://www.conocophillips.ca/EN/tech/sagd/Pages/index.aspx) that are now being drilled to get at the Oil Sands in northern Alberta.  In this case there are 2 distinct wellbores that really are, for all intents, a single “well”.  One borehole injects and circulates steam to break the oil from the sand while the other wellbore collects the liberated oil and water and brings it to the surface.  Due to the requirements of the current UWI formats, these wellbores will have different UWIs (which should probably be the correct case anyway) however the current UWI structure has no intrinsic way to link these paired wellbores.

3)      Depending on regulatory jurisdiction, a UWI may reference the Surface, the Bottom Hole, the Completion Interval, or some other arbitrary point in a well.

4)      Depending on jurisdiction, a UWI may or may not be issued for any of the following:

  • pilot hole
  • side track
  • deepening
  • re-completion
  • etc.
Simplified schematics of some well configurations

Click for larger image

What is geoLOGIC doing to create solutions?

A few years ago the API was approached to update the D12A Standard.  After looking into the issue, the API decided that they no longer wanted to be responsible for the maintenance of the Standard and made it known that they would be willing to sub-contract the maintenance of the Standard to an appropriate body.  A few organizations expressed interest in taking over the maintenance of the standard, and in the end API entered into a contract with the PPDM organization to update and continue to maintain the Standard.  This tied in nicely with a PPDM Workgroup that had just been formed to address the larger issue of trying to define a standard for a UWI that would be applicable on a worldwide basis.  geoLOGIC is an active participant in this workgroup.

In the past year there has also been activity on the Canadian side of the border as well.  PPDM has been in contact with CAPP regarding the DLS/NTS/FPS standards, and, this past June, the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) kicked of a consultation process in conjunction with the PPDM Association to address the deficiencies in the current DLS UWI structure.  geoLOGIC is a participant in this effort as well.

Change is coming – We’re planning to be ready

This is an important and critical project.  When (not “If”) the UWI formats change this will have potentially far-reaching effects on all aspects of the business for us and for our clients (and for those who are not – yet – our clients).  With our early participation in these projects we are in a position to ensure that, as changes come forward, we have solutions that provide our clients with seamless and painless transitions.

Thanks to PPDM for the use of the Typical Well Configurations example from WIAW Phase 1.

About Sean Udell

Sean does not like to write about himself in the 3rd-person. He’s been with geoLOGIC longer than almost everyone else in the company, and some of the new hires weren’t even a gleam in their parent’s eyes when he started.
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