A University of Alberta professor has created a website that provides data, history and news about two million oil and gas wells across North America. It was designed to be used as a tool to gather useful information for real estate purposes and received a $30,000 grant from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation in 2017.
WellWiki.org has ambitions to eventually provide data on all oil and gas wells ever drilled in North America – an estimated four million wells since the Drake well in 1859 in Pennsylvania.
Joel Gehman, Alberta School of Business chair in free enterprise at the University of Alberta, says the website grew out of research he was doing years ago in Pennsylvania. His focus is on how corporations deal with societal pressure or concerns related to sustainability – how do they deal with environmental or social issues?
“One of the things I look at is how firms may decide to innovate in order to address those concerns,” says Gehman. He says he “became interested in the context of oil and gas well development because obviously this is an area where you expect there might be concerns and firms might have to respond.”
Gehman did his PhD at Penn State University and at the time there was a lot of news about fracking – the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. That was the original genesis for WellWiki.
On the site, you can find information about a well by searching its well number, geographic location or company name and other details. Each well is identified by its well number and given a “well page”, which provides information about location, permits, associated well pad, spudding and drilling information, violation and inspection data, production data and waste information. A well page also links to the municipal community hosting that well and the operating company that owns it.
So far, jurisdictions covered by the site include New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.
“The major one we’re missing and working to get next is Saskatchewan,” says Gehman. “Alberta is obviously the big one. For every one of those wells we have a page on our site. For each one of the 613,000 Alberta wells we have every piece of information that the regulator knows about that well – posted and displayed in ways that hopefully makes sense to the average user.
“When you start to think of farmland or ranch land or more rural properties, you can get into a situation where perhaps you’re not aware of the wells that are on your property, or you would like to know more about those wells. Who’s operating them? What’s happening?” says Gehman.
As cities such as Edmonton expand, wells that used to be on the outskirts now have housing encroaching.
“Now you’ve got houses that are coming up against what used to be really remote wellheads. So those citizens might want to know, what is that? And do I have any reason to be worried? What’s going on there?”
It’s another example of how the site can be useful, says Gehman.
The location of a property and its vicinity to a well could impact its value. For the real estate industry – whether you’re a buyer, seller or an agent – the WellWiki site provides important and valuable information that could determine what a property is worth.
“Most of us would probably not want a well immediately in our backyards, at least if we’re in some kind of urban or suburban environment. I mean obviously if you’re in an acreage it’s a little bit different,” says Gehman.
“A big part of what this site is trying to do is take the information and make it publicly available in ways that are hopefully accessible and comprehensible to the average citizen or landowner.”