Data Swappers

BLM's Paul Brown is working to change oil and gas companies' paper permit and record filings into machine-to-machine XML.

Merv Coleman

BLM paves the way for data exchanges with oil and gas drillers

The Bureau of Land Management is setting up Extensible Markup Language data exchanges with oil and natural gas prospectors who drill on federal lands.

The Well Information System, at www.wispermits.org, lets energy companies apply for drilling permits, said Paul Brown, BLM's program manager for WIS and its back-end database, the Automated Fluid Minerals Support System. Brown works at the agency's National IRM Center in Denver.

The XML interface lets the agency and the drilling companies exchange data without manual processing. Many account holders formerly had to type data into WIS and then type data from WIS back into their legacy systems. With the XML interface, they need enter data only once.
Office Technology Systems Inc. built WIS about four years ago, and WIS will soon register its 500th user, said Gene Thibodeau, national project coordinator for the Wheat Ridge, Colo., company.

The paper weight

About 230 oil and gas drilling companies now have WIS accounts, but there's plenty of room to expand, Brown said. Some BLM regional offices receive only about 20 percent of their permit-related documents in electronic format.

'Historically and culturally, we all like to have paperwork at our desks,' Brown said.

Over the next few months, Brown said, companies that already have WIS accounts will use machine-to-machine file transfer to dump documents directly into the agency's database.

Once account holders log in to the password-protected section of WIS, they can file new permit applications and reports, view those filed in the past 30 days, or search for a particular well or case number.

In the lifecycle of an oil or gas well, a notice of staking comes first, followed by an application for permit to drill. Once a well is producing, the driller must file a well completion report. A so-called sundry notice conveys miscellaneous information.

The four online forms combine pull-down menus and text fields. All four let users save drafts of their work to finish later.

Oil companies 'are very shy and don't believe you can do what you say you can do with IT,' Thibodeau said. 'We wanted to get this all set up so we can show it to them and say, 'This is not vaporware, this is something we can really do.' '

AFMSS uses an IBM Corp. Informix database management system, Brown said. Initially it was a client-server system with 31 databases spread over seven servers across the United States, but a couple of years ago the agency consolidated all the databases onto a single server.

Because of the American Indian trust fund account case, BLM must strictly regulate access to the databases.

The wispermits.org site uses a combination of Active Server Pages, Secure Sockets Layer protocol and JavaScript, Thibodeau said.

A large company might have a dozen or more separate WIS accounts. To protect confidentiality and proprietary data, account holders have a log-in name, password and user profile approved by Brown. Users can see only their own data and reports.

Before Office Technology Systems started using an XML application called XA-Suite 2.16 from XAware Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., late last year, BLM had proposed electronic data exchange to some interested companies.

At that time, 'We didn't have anything in place, so they all thought we were talking through our hats, so to speak,' Brown said.

The XAware software and its associated XML schema have given BLM more credibility, he said.

Standards for data

There could be as many schema variations as there are companies using WIS. XAware lets BLM and contractors standardize the incoming data for WIS without having to write several software routines to massage it.

WIS users who want to start electronic transfers can ask the Office Technology Systems to set up the interface using the XAware software, or they can purchase their own copy of XAware and set it up themselves. So far only one drilling company has done so.

It takes about half a day to build an interface, Thibodeau said.

The Informix database management system runs under Unix, but the rest of the bureau uses a combination of Microsoft Windows 2000, NT and XP.

When AFMSS started up four years ago, many agency users had Unix systems. Since then, most have migrated to Windows.

In oil and gas regions, BLM and state regulatory agencies have similar permitting and reporting processes. XAware will let an oil or gas operator report to federal and state agencies at the same time, Brown said.

BLM itself plans to use XML and XAware to exchange data with the states, probably beginning with Colorado.

Prior to the Interior Department lawsuit, BLM exchanged flat files with other federal agencies, but the lawsuit severed that capability, Brown said.

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