GIS Within The Gas And Oil Industry

Many of us are involved in an important task for our economy and our nation – transporting highly flammable materials (oil, natural gas, liquid petroleum products) over great distances and under considerable pressure.

Needless to say, if we all do our jobs properly, no one reads about our pipelines or employers, and our industry does not end up on the evening news! January 2018 was a record-breaking month for natural gas consumption in the United States; more than 3.3 trillion cubic feet of gas was consumed that month. That’s an average of over 106 billion cubic feet of gas per day. An astounding number! Think of it, every molecule of that gas was moved from the well head to our customers’ burner tips safely and efficiently via our pipelines. Proper pipeline operations benefit all of us, producer and consumer. Thank you for doing your job safely!

Being employed in the exploration and production sector of the industry, I can attest that safe pipeline operators make our job a lot easier. Any disaster, leaks (large or small) or seeps of product into a stream or a farmer’s field makes the job of our landmen that much harder. Negative publicity hurts all of us, especially an E&P company attempting to obtain well location agreements or right-of-way agreements for gathering and midstream pipelines.

Additionally, safe and responsible pipeline operations help to diffuse the tension created by anti-carbon activists and others who would disparage our industry and prevent the construction of vital pipelines needed to carry the nation’s hydrocarbons from the oil and gas fields to our homes, offices and factories. Safe operations also blunt the arguments of politicians and regulators who would block the construction of needed and federally-approved pipelines.

A blockade on interstate pipeline construction through New York has hampered the ability of New England to tap into the bountiful and inexpensive quantities of gas within the Marcellus and Utica shales. The constricted flow of gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia made it necessary for utilities to import liquefied natural gas from (of all places) Russia! At a time when the nation can domestically provide 100% of its natural gas supply, does it make any sense to import gas from a potential adversary?

A large aspect of pipeline safety is the geo-location of pipelines, proper surveys, documentation of materials, construction practices and as-built record keeping. All of these tasks are undertaken by the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Data Management professionals in hundreds of companies across the nation.

The mapping and databases maintained by these professionals is not only good for business and safety, but is also mandated by the federal government through the Department of Transportation, via the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). PHMSA has established regulations requiring mapping accuracy and documentation standards that have increased the profile of GIS within the pipeline industry.

The Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA), has long supported these professionals via conferences, webinars and publications along with the establishment of standards to help our members and their employers comply with federal regulations and standards.

To that end, GITA has hosted an annual pipeline conference. This year marks the 27th annual edition of the GITA Oil and Gas Pipeline Conference to be held in Houston, Texas, October 15-16. Rebranded this year with our conference producer as the “Pipeline Technology Forum”, GITA is again looking forward to providing this valuable educational opportunity. This conference brings together experts in both the geospatial and data management fields of the pipeline industry. Papers and presentations are delivered touching upon the safe location, monitoring, operations and regulatory compliance of hydrocarbon pipelines. All sectors of the industry are represented with presentations and attendees hailing from gathering, midstream, transmission, and distribution pipeline operators.

GITA was also pleased this past March to present the GITA Phoenix GIS Conference. The meeting was held in Phoenix as a complementary event to the 2018 CGA 811 Excavation Safety Conference & Expo. The Conference provided an excellent opportunity for geospatial professionals to mingle with their utility protection colleagues to discuss issues of common interest as well as providing geospatially-focused presentations to attendees. Topics presented included: UAV / Drone Use, 911 Emergency Response Mapping, Health Care Resources, Open Source Mapping Software, Web Based Mapping, 3D Pipeline Visualization, Holographic GIS, and Optimized Approaches to Find Buried Hazards, among others.

For 2019, we are excited to announce that GITA will again offer this complementary geospatial conference in conjunction with the 2019 CGA 811 Excavation Safety Conference & Expo in Tampa, March 25-26. A local host committee has been recruited and is currently seeking papers of interest to both the geospatial and utility protection industries. I am personally looking forward to this event and hope to build off the efforts GITA made in Phoenix delivering geo-educational opportunities to both GITA members and Conference attendees.

Providing educational services such as these conferences is a key mission of GITA. Founded in 1982, the association originally named Automated Mapping/ Facilities Management International (AM/FM International), was focused upon delivering educational resources to individuals interested in implementing AM/FM/GIS technology. In 1998, AM/FM International changed its name to the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA) in order to better reflect the association’s focus. GITA’s mission at the time was to provide geospatial solutions via education, information exchange, and applied research on the use and benefits of geospatial information and technology for infrastructure. As the industry matured, GITA redirected its focus from a technology analysis and recommendation mission to one providing educational services and training opportunities to the broader GIS community. Our educational services are primarily delivered via conferences, both national and regional, and via online services. GITA has maintained that outreach to the present day.

Recognizing that geospatial technologies have spread well beyond infrastructure-based industries, the board of directors in 2017 refreshed the association’s vision and mission statements. Where previously the organization was focused on technology research and analysis for an infrastructure-focused membership, GITA has now refocused association efforts to enrich and educate the broader geospatial community, as well as to help connect and advocate for geospatial practitioners.

GITA maintains strong ties to the academic community; this is especially seen in the funding provided to geospatial students. In 2017, GITA North America and its regional chapters provided more than $10,000 dollars in scholarships. Since 2014, GITA’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter, through its EnerGIS Conference, has distributed more than $23,000 in scholarships.

Serving as an advocate for our members is an important mission for GITA. GITA has the opportunity to nominate and recommend candidates for the National Geospatial Advisory Council (NGAC), and has representatives that sit on the board of the GIS Certification Institute which evaluates and tests the abilities of geospatial practitioners and awards successful candidates with the GISP (GIS Professional) certification.

As with any volunteer organization, GITA is in need of active and involved professionals who want to make a difference in the industry. The GITA board of directors has established a goal of broadening its membership base and leadership. We are particularly interested in individuals within the utility protection industry that could assist the association and serve as a bridge to the utility and transmission firms that we rely on daily for our energy, telecommunications, water and sewage needs. If you have an interest in assisting us, please reach out!


Mark E. Limbruner, GISP is President of the Geospatial Information & Technology Association. He has over 36 years of mapping, CAD and geospatial experience and is employed as the GIS Manager for Range Resources Corporation’s Appalachian Division. He can be reached at president@gita.org.

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