Hydrocarbon Technical Archive (ATH) (ATH)

Published on: 28/10/2013

The search for new energy sources that would reduce energy dependence in Europe presents a great challenge that every state must deal with.

Every government must guarantee the general interest and supervise the safety and welfare of its citizens, facing the complex task of ensuring these values while fostering economy and attracting foreign investment in strategic sectors such as energy, even more nowadays due to the current economic crisis.

The exploration of new sources of hydrocarbons (petroleum, gas) in Spanish territory is a valuable activity, essential for future economic development. However, the application of new techniques such as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", in places with unstable seismic behaviour (e.g. the "Castor" gas storage project) or places whose main economic activity is strongly related to tourism, are sensitive issues and have caused a number of social protests. At this point, the Government must guarantee the strictest protection of the environment and citizen rights, as well as full transparency and accountability.

The regulatory framework helps to achieve this objective, given that the Law 34/1998, of the Hydrocarbon Sector, and the current regulation on research and exploitation of hydrocarbons, oblige to send to the Administration every document generated by prospecting and research activities. Moreover, when this information stops being confidential, it must be published in standard formats, in order to help and boost future activities.

This documentation is incorporated and indexed since 1960 into a special Technical Archive owned by the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, which has an incalculable value: it stores more than 500 000 documents in many different and complex formats, the oldest dating from 1850. The present project (ATH) reflects the effort of making this Archive "electronic", digitalising all the information through several incremental stages and making it possible for every citizen to order a copy of this documentation (exploration permits, graphics, reports, etc.) through the Internet. 

Moreover, ATH Project includes a sophisticated searching functionality together with a Geographical Information System that makes it easier to allocate the different "seismic figures" directly on a map.

Thus, the main objective of this Hydrocarbon Technical Archive is facilitating the access to this information to any business interested in exploring new regions. It allows them to start their activity from the research already carried out in that area, then becoming a source of savings for these companies.

It also makes it possible for any citizen or association to analyse the hydrocarbon sector information, reaching the transparency objective mentioned before. In this sense, ATH information has also been included in the Open Data initiative held by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism:  https://sede.minetur.gob.es/es-ES/datosabiertos/catalogo/licencias-ath

Policy Context

The search for new energy sources that would reduce energy dependence in Europe presents a great challenge that every State must deal with.

Research in Hydrocarbon sector can be developed freely by any company, public or private, able to certify the legal, technical and financial capacity that is necessary to carry out such activity.

The Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, specifically the General Directorate of Energy Policy and Mines, is responsible for granting exploration authorisations and exploration permits when their geographical areas cover more than one region, are located under the sea or simultaneously cover terrestrial and marine areas. It is also responsible for granting exploitation concessions in every case.

The current legal framework regarding investigation of hydrocarbons in Spain, in general terms, is defined by two rules:

  • Law 34/1998, of October 7, the hydrocarbons sector. Title II establishes the legal framework for exploration, research and exploitation of deposits and underground hydrocarbon storage.
  • Royal Decree 2362/1976, of 30 July, that develops the previous Law 34/1998.

According to the provisions included in Article 12 of Law 34/1998, of October 7, and Article 11 of the current regulation on investigation and exploitation of hydrocarbons, the holders of research authorisations, exploration permits and production concessions are required to provide to the competent authority copies of every document generated by prospecting and research activities.

These documents stop being confidential under different circumstances: after one year since the permit expires, when it only refers to the location or basic data of the activity, etc. and the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism publishes it to the citizen through the Hydrocarbon Technical Archive.

Description of target users and groups

  • Citizens and Business-  They have the possibility of making information requests to the Ministry, who will arrange an appointment with them for delivering the documentation if it's not possible to provide it 100% digitally. They can also access the geographic information system that includes a map viewer and advanced searching functionalities.
  • Universities and associations (ecologist, geologist) - They can access the same functionality as companies in order to study and analyse the hydrocarbon sector.
  • General Directorate of the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism Users - They supervise and attend the information requests from the citizens, as well as modify the Archive documentation: digitalising, linking and adding documents every day thanks to the edition functionalities the Archive System offers to their role.
  • Regional Governments - They help to improve ATH Project, and send and receive information from the system, given that the competencies in exploration permits and concessions are shared between central and regional government.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Success factors

  • Transparency as a guiding principle -  Since the first moment, one of the guiding principles has been the right to know and to benefit from existing information the citizens have. Thus, all the information in the Archive has been published in the most useful way, preferentially based on standard formats. It has also been published within the Open Data initiative held by the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism: https://sede.minetur.gob.es/es-ES/datosabiertos/catalogo/licencias-ath
  • User-centric design - Regarding both the responsibles in the Ministry and, above all, the citizens and companies that have access to the Archive.
  • Simplicity - The procedure of appling for the Archive documentation has been strongly simplified, reducing the whole time of the process in more than a 90 % in many cases (for example when all the information is digitallized and available online).
  • Full Availabiliy - Thanks to the online publication of the Archive every citizen at anytime can access and apply for it.
  • Added Value thanks to Geographical Information System - This system helps the user to locate easily all the information available in any region of interest.

Implementation and management

The scope of this project is broad and its complexity has been managed following these principles:

  • It has been developed through several incremental stages. 
  • It has required the participation of a broad range of actors, essential for guaranteeing the correct operation of the system: business, geologists, universities, associations, ecologists, Ministry of Industry managers, citizens, etc. 
  • It has been necessary to manage private sector initiatives, for example from large operators, interested in establishing public-private partnership in relation to the Archive.

Technology solution

ATH technology solution is based on the following open standards:

  • OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) standards, specifically WMS (Web Map Services), used for publishing Explorations and Permits information, making them available for remote access and reuse by any organism or citizen. 
  • Java 5 platform combined with open Frameworks such as Spring, Hibernate and JSON. It also uses AJAX Technology (Asyncronous Javascript and XML) in the whole system.
  • For the Geographic Information System, it is used the last version of OpenLayers library, as well as GeoJSON Javascript API for managing geographical referenced information and exchanging data among different systems in a flexible way.

Furthermore, the storage system must comply with strict features such as large capacity, fast indexing and recovering and scalability, given that it must store and index hundreds of Terabytes in an efficient way. The choice for achieving this has been a NAS System (Network Attached Storage).

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Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Mainly (or only) open standards, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The Hydrocarbon Technical Archive gathers all the necessary information related to Hydrocarbon sector (petrol and gas), making it available for every citizen or company through the Internet, thus allowing a full transparency in this strategic sector.

The main benefits of the project are:
  • Foster the search for new energy sources that would reduce energy dependence in Europe.
  • Attract foreign investment in strategic sectors such as energy.
  • Obtain savings for any business interested in exploring any area of the spanish territory, given that they can count on the previous information and results.
  • Guarantee the strictest protection of the environment and citizen rights, as well as full transparency and accountability. In this sense, ATH makes it possible for any citizen or association to analyse the hydrocarbon sector information and it has also been included in the Open Data initiative held by the Ministry.

Quantitative and qualitative impacts

The most relevant indicators about the importance of ATH Project are:

  • Since the 60s, it has been drilled more than 1.7 million of metres through more  than a thousand of explorations. All the results of this research are stored in the Archive and most of it (information not confidential) are published.
  • It is estimated that there aremore than 500.000 documents (reports, "diagraphies", graphics, etc.) stored and indexed in the Archive, most of them in complex formats such as large drawings or even made of parchment paper.
  • The size of each digitilised document can reach several gigabytes, given their lenght and the high resolution they need.
  • Every time a new permit is conceded and published by the Ministry, it receives more than 2 000 applications from the society (requests for information, complaints, etc.), showing this is a sensitive issue for the Society and a main concern for the Government.
  • The Archive receives more than 6 000 document requests per year (from citizens, universities and above all companies). 
  • The oldest documents included in the Technical Archive date from 1850 and are a highly valuable information regarding both hydrocarbon research and history because of its antiquity.
  • The annual exploration and production investment exceeds 50 million of euros and each permit implies an average investment of several millions of euros. For example, Repsol estimates a total investment of 7 500 millions in the new regions discovered in the Canary Islands and this area could represent the 10 % of the total oil production in Spain (that is, more than 10 000 Tm per year).
Return on investment
The return of investment is measured in terms of the estimated savings obtained by both the citizens (external savings) and the Administration (internal savings) thanks to ATH project.

In order to calculate these figures, the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism uses an official methodology developed by the Spanish Governemnt and that is based on the Standard Cost Model. Following this guideline, the estimated savings are 3.1 million of euros, considering 6.000 documents required per year, its characteristics and the nature of the procedure. The ROI (Return On Investment) is 620 %, that is to say, each euro invested on the projects causes €6.2 of saving for the Society and Administration itself.

However, the main saving in this case is that obtained thanks to the possibility the Archive gives to the business of "reciclying" all the previous research already carried out in a certain area. In this sense, each exploration permit covers 65 000 Ha on average and includes information of 12 exploration (drillings).  Assuming a cost of 100 000 euros per exploration within the permit, this implies an average saving of 1.2 million for every company that benefits from the existing information stored in the Archive.

Return on investment

Return on investment: €1,000,000-5,000,000

Track record of sharing

ATH Project presents several features that have been gathered in several guides and presented in different forums and scenarios because they can be reused by other organisations as good practices or case of success, including:

  • Use of advanced storage systems and publishing of complex documents in standard formats.
  • Geographic Information Systems based on standards and applied to the energy sector, specifically Hydrocarbon sector.
  • Managing the life cycle of large projects in incremental stages.
  • Integration of private sector and public-private partnerships.
  • Digitalization of documents with complex formats.
  • Integration of citizens expectations thanks to transparency and accountability regarding sensitive issues.
ATH implies regional government cooperation, given that the competencies on this matter are shared with central government, so every regional administration shares and receive information from ATH system.

A project like ATH could be really profitable for other Public Administrations that are facing a similar problem, as long as for any government that is trying to foster investment on energy sector in its country or region or implementing a similar legal framework.

Finally, ATH responsibles are willing to share its experience and exchange knowledge with potentially interested public or private stakeholders, in order to benefit from new ideas and enrich ATH project in its following stages.

Lessons learnt

The main lessons learnt are:

  • Transparency and accountability towards the citizens are crucial, above all considering main concerns and sensitive issues such as environment or strategic sectors like energy.
  • Importance of fostering new searching in hydrocarbon sector - Exploration of new sources of hydrocarbons (petroleum, gas) in the Spanish territory is a really valuable activity, essential for future economic development.
  • Dealing with complexity - The figures included in impact section (for example that the oldest document included in the Technical Archive dates from 1850) show the importance and value of the Archive. It has been made a really large effort in order to index and make all this information available or "requestable" through the Internet.
  • Cooperation and collaboration among parts is essential - Achieving a perfect balance among a broad range of actors with opposed interests is a very complex task that must be address carefully and following incremental stages.
  • Simplicity must be a "citizens right" - It has been made a big effort in simplifying the procedure and making it easier for business and citizens to consult the Archive.
  • Adding a geographical dimension helps users - In this case, the inclusion of a Geographical Information System that represents permits and explorations on a map has contributed to highly increase the "usability" of the Archive.
Scope: Cross-border, National