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MIT team’s websites offer information about oil and gas industry activity

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

People living in states where the oil and gas industry is active, and who feel they are in the dark in terms of how to interact with the industry, can get a little help from some friends back east.

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT] has developed a set of websites that offer specific and otherwise hard-to-get information on the industry.

Aside from working with data on the Internet, the team works with local observers “on the ground” in various locales, such as Tara Meixsell of New Castle, who has been involved with the MIT effort for some time.



Someone interested in spending a little time online can get everything from how to work with the “land men” sent out by energy companies to secure mineral rights from private property owners, to figuring out how many gas wells are being drilled in a particular neighborhood.

The three sites are called “Landman Report Card,” “The News Positioning System [NPS]” and “WellWatch.”



Chris Csikszentmihalyi, who heads up the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, said on Monday that the websites are continually evolving, noting, “It’s never going to be a completed process for all of geologic history, as well as human history.”

For instance, he said, in Ohio, one of the states where oil and gas drilling has a long history, his group has encountered people having trouble with contamination issues from wells that were originally drilled in the 1800s and were never sealed or capped as modern wells are.

His group first began working on the site three years ago, he said, when it became clear that in the 35 states with active oil and gas drilling, people were “not talking to each other” to learn from others’ experiences.

And, he said, “There are lots and lots of people in that situation all over the country.”

Thinking about ways to allow surface owners to interact, to share experiences and problems, and to put mineral rights holders in a better position to deal with the energy companies, Csikszentmihalyi’s group came up first with the landman report card.

The site [www.landmanreportcard.com] is designed to accept stories uploaded from people who have had dealings with land men in different locales, to make them available to people who are new to the process.

“We’re ideally trying to get people to put them up as they deal with the land man,” Csikszentmihalyi said, “to have them document it right away.”

Up next, he said, the group came up with a site dedicated to keeping track of news stories concerning oil and gas activities and issues arising from those activities [www.newspositioning.com].

Finally, he said, the group recently put up a test site named WellWatch [http://scrapper.media.mit.edu/wiki/WellWatch] that in time is supposed to offer maps that depict location and related information about oil and gas wells throughout the country. He stressed that the site’s address will change once it is out of the “beta,” or testing phase.

So far, he said, the site features maps of five states, including Colorado, although the data is not absolutely up to date.

“We’re not in real time with the COGCC yet,” Csikszentmihalyi said, referring to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which maintains an online database that provides the information for WellWatch.

He said his group is working on software that automatically will update itself with COGCC data, but right now it is a manual process they call “scraping the website” every couple of months.

Right now, he said, the wells on the WellWatch page for Silt Mesa only reflect the wells drilled as of late September.

But Csikszentmihalyi said his team is working with locals “on the ground” in the gas fields to update information and learn what kinds of data would be most useful to those dealing with the industry and its effects.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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