Nebraska Standardizes UIC Area of Review Data with the RBDMS AOR Tool
In early 2020 the Nebraska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (NOGCC) partnered with the Groundwater Protection Council (GWPC) to implement the RBDMS Area of Review (AOR) Tool. This application allows a user to upload AOR data via an Electronic Data Deliverable (EDD); in this case, an Excel spreadsheet. The NOGCC can then review the AOR data and make necessary updates before migrating the data to easily queryable database tables. The application streamlines the submission, validation, and review of AOR data. Since implementing the AOR tool, the NOGCC has seen a standardization of AOR data and an improvement in data quality. As time goes on, these digital AOR records will make review of future AORs easier and faster.
The NOGCC is tasked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform an AOR whenever an operator plans to permit a new Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II oil/gas well or repurpose an old well. The NOGCC is responsible for ensuring that waste water produced during oil/gas extraction does not destroy local root systems or affect drinking water. Class II wells are wells where this waste water—which may contain a high amount of brine—is injected back into the ground. For any potential new or converted injection well, the AOR covers a ½ mile radius around the well within which the NOGCC must review all producing wells, shut in, or previously abandoned wells to ensure their structural integrity and identifying potential corrective actions before a permit can be issued. The primary concern of the AOR is to examine nearby wells to ensure that the prospective injection well will not harm the structural integrity of the existing wells, creating pathways for communication that may compromise overlying USDWs (Underground Sources of Drinking Water). For the average NOGCC AOR, 10-15 wells are generally examined.
The AOR Tool allows NOGCC staff to upload all relevant information about proposed, current, or old and plugged wells into a spreadsheet, which is then transferred to the NOGCC’s database. Before the information on wells can be validated, all information must be completed and formatted correctly. If any information is missing, or any data improperly formatted, the application rejects the spreadsheet and highlights to the user what information must be corrected. Once all of the data is completed and formatted correctly, the application accepts the spreadsheet, expanding the AOR dataset in the NOGCC RBDMS database.
The standardization of data provided by the AOR Tool, coupled with the expanding amount of data in the NOGCC’s database, allows agency staff to complete AORs more thoroughly—and with greater precision—than before. Prior to the implementation of the AOR Tool, all files on old and existing wells had to be pulled by hand, a time-consuming process, especially when dealing with wells that could be 60 or 70 years old. Legacy data records are generally not standardized and often incomplete by modern standards, leading to confusion and potential misunderstandings of that data. Now the AOR Tool is building a dataset that agency users can use in future AORs with confidence that all data will be as complete and up to date as possible. This ensures that all AORs completed by the NOGCC are standardized and rely on the same data types. More importantly, the information obtained through the AOR Tool will remain available in digital format for all agency users in perpetuity. Todd Boesiger, Deputy Director of the NOGCC, believes that as the AOR dataset in the database improves using the application, “it will save us a tremendous amount of time when completing these reviews in the future.”
According to Boesiger, some of the many benefits of the AOR Tool are data preservation, rapid access and readability, and the ability of the public to easily view where previous AORs have been performed. Before the NOGCC installed the application most of the well information was in paper or PDF format, making it difficult to search for specific data within the files. Now, the AOR Tool allows the NOGCC to upload all the AOR well data into a database and will allow agency users to search quickly for data with a level of specificity that was simply impossible before. This allows agency reviewers to efficiently and confidently search and view important data while performing AORs. The areal extents, locations and wells uploaded through the AOR Tool will also be made available to the public to easily search for and view general information of any AOR. The NOGCC is a publically funded agency and, according to Boesiger, “Public trust is important. With the AOR EDD, the public can now visualize any pending or completed AOR. We want wells involved in AORs to be easily identified, accessible to the public and easy to view, and the AOR Tool helps us do that.”
Overall, according to Boesiger, “The AOR EDD has improved preservation and execution of the AOR, and has made the AOR highly organized and standardized. All of our area coordinators are on the same page, and all of our data can now be passed down in an easily accessible format as coordinators retire.” Boesiger believes that if more states implement the AOR Tool, it will help standardize AORs across the country, which could help agencies share information not just within their own state, but with each other.
The AOR EDD can be easily adapted to fit the specific criteria for AORs in each state, and the application has the ability to allow both agencies and operators to upload and validate well data. While the NOGCC currently uploads all of the AORs, Boesiger believes that in higher oil producing states, the ability of the AOR Tool to allow operators to upload their own AORs (which would then be reviewed by state agencies) could save an enormous amount of time for those agencies.
The AOR Tool is part of RBDMS, a suite of integrated software products that assists state agencies in the regulating, oversight and management of oil, gas and Underground Injection Control (UIC) facilities and activities. It was developed by GWPC and member states, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. Over 20 states have implemented one or more RBDMS products and have found that RBDMS increases efficiency in mission-critical tasks. For questions about RBDMS, contact GWPC (Paul Jehn National RBDMS project manager) at [email protected].