How Open Data Is Going To Impact Oil & Gas

How Open Data Is Going To Impact Oil & Gas

To many, the open data movement is only about government transparency, but in fact, open data will impact the oil and gas industry as well, in ways that are not obvious but no less significant. Without action, the industry will be on the back foot.

What is open data?

Open data is simply data that “can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose”. To be “open”, data (that is, anything that exists in a digital form, which includes text, numbers, video and audio clips, pictures) must be accessible (i.e., people can find it), machine readable(i.e., must be searchable, unlike an image-only pdfs) and provided by its originator without restriction for use (including monetary or other).


The G8 Open Data Charter was signed by G8 countries in 2013. This established principles for open data to improve governance, transparency, and innovation. The Open Data Charter has been adopted by governments and non-governmental organisations around the world. But what does it mean to the energy industry?


In terms of democracy and political process, open data is a means for levelling the information playing field for all parties who want to discuss an issue, project or policy: it gives everyone access to the same information. Open data provides a means for moving energy conversations beyond arguments of opinions, to facts and to create better and informed discussions that can lead to better decisions. But this also requires data literacy skills to use data, to ask questions, to analyze data.


Without increasing skills and literacy, an information divide will grow in the midst of the energy data flood.


And that’s bad for building understanding, trust and cooperation in an increasingly polarized energy world.

Bridges or Moats?

With open data commitments in place, particularly in the advanced economies, we should anticipate an increasing level of interest in open data activity across all sectors. But who in the broad world of energy investments and infrastructure will be impacted by open data and in what way? We likely find ourselves occupants of various categories in the open data ecosystem. We offer guiding questions to ask yourself, no matter what category you may find yourself.

Communities & Stakeholders

In the open data ecosystem, communities and stakeholders are intimate with knowledge about public concerns and what the problems are that need to be solved. Communities know their issues best, whether that’s increasing workforce participation or protecting community resources like fisheries.


While government open data initiatives have increased access to data, the fact is where communities and stakeholders may be lacking, is in the technical skills to effectively use open data. The technical skills include knowing how to search for and categorize data, connecting disparate information, creating visualizations, building programs and other analytical tools that allow people to question and create meaning from data. A digital divide is still a barrier to many Canadian rural areas, but the need for data skills improvements is not an issue restricted to rural areas.


Hackathons or datathons are one way of bringing people together to work with data, but meet ups in advance of those activities to think about community issues may be helpful in creating connections between problem solving and the role of data analysis.


Policy knowledge may also be a challenge. Policy is often written to solve multiple needs, including a legal interpretation. Being able to make sense of specific policies, as well as to know which policies apply in what situation, requires knowledge that may not be readily available in all communities.


When partnered with data analysts or programmers and guided by engagement with government or industry, these technical and policy interpretation barriers can be breached. Data programmers or software developers can also assist governments and companies in the opening of data effectively for analysis by communities and the building of shared data and information platforms.


Communities close to projects may also be a valuable source of data themselves or may be able to play a role in contextual data to go into planning processes or data verification: a process of closing of the loop by allowing community correction and feedback on data, with a final (government) validation.


Questions to ask:

  • Have you considered if or how open data can address your community’s problems and issues?
  • Do you know what questions to ask of open data?
  • Do you know what’s available and how to find it?
  • What is the state of your data literacy and analytical skills?
  • Do you have data programmers or software developers in your community to utilize open data to enhance your understanding of environmental, social and energy issues in your community?


Government, including Regulators

Clearly governments are central to the open data ecosystem, as the provider and custodian of government data. The federal open data portal, was launched in 2011. Canadian government departments and federal institutions have been encouraged to make their publishable data open (restrictions associated with privacy, confidentiality and security will still be maintained) under the Directive On Open Government since 2014. Many provinces, cities and other government institutions (e.g. BC Oil and Gas Commission) have open data portals as well.


This means more data will be available in open format which will allow for increased connections among a variety of data sets, cross-jurisdictional comparisons, trend analysis, benchmarking and knowledge growth.


One intention of open data initiatives is meaningful engagement between citizens and government departments and institutions. But to mitigate against a growing data literacy divide and the subsequent possibility of an impact gap for open data, open government initiatives should include training and awareness programs, development of easy data tools and a strategy to address the inequalities of rural broadband Internet access, so that rural citizens can access and utilize open data effectively and in a timely way.


Questions to ask

  • What is the scope of your open data program? Does it include participation and collaboration?
  • Have you considered whether data plays a leading or supporting role in issues and problems you are hoping to solve?
  • What engagement activities are supporting the data releases to ensure the data make an impact on those you serve?
  • Does your open data platform include places for citizen data contributions?
  • How do your numbers line up with other countries’?

Project Proponents, Suppliers and Contractors

In the open data ecosystem, industry’s role can mirror that of government: a supplier of data, policy/issues knowledge and context. Project proponents, agents, associations, suppliers, contractors and unions, should anticipate filings and compliance activities will be more accessible to the public and this information will need to be machine readable. Hence, analysis, comparisons and benchmarking will be easier for those with the skills to program and use open data.


Obtaining social licenceto operate may come at a cost of more data from energy companies to demonstrate safety and environmental protection practices and economic impacts. In our view, project proponents should anticipate increasing requests from citizens for information about projects to compliment the expectations of government transparency.If you operate internationally, you may be asked to report on who you are contracting with and what payments you are making to governments.


For a company, preparing to embrace the emerging world of open data may be viewed as a chance to demonstrate your company’s values, through your business practices and to enhance your engagement with communities. A company may want to consider if it can assist in addressing a community’s problems with its data or being innovative with a data engagement strategy.


Questions to ask:

  • Can you assist communities in need with data analysis or simply data access?
  • How are you engaging communities with your data?
  • Are you making your data available and in a useable format to those who question your performance or your claims?
  • Are you making information available in formats that are accessible and useable to stakeholders living in remote areas with slow internet speeds?
  • Are you training your staff to make the best use of open data portals to obtain and automate data updates?
  • Are you able to analyze open data, create visualizations, increase the efficiency of your data analytics?
  • Are you building moats or bridges for understanding and discussion about your business and the energy industry?

Making the Ecosystem Thrive

To improve understanding of the complexity of energy systems and energy use in our lives, to address climate change, or to create new energy apps and platforms, requires all actors in the ecosystem to make it thrive. It behooves us to develop skills in data and help lessen information asymmetry. It requires recognition that not all actors (government, industry, citizens, programmers or software developers) have all of the pieces needed to address large, complex energy issues (i.e., contextual information, technical skills, policy information). Collaboration and engagement with communities and stakeholders’ data projects can send a signal of shared goals and enhance the legitimacy of such analytical work.As you plan corporate engagement activities in communities, consider data literacy and data skills and technology projects to help build mutual understanding through data and knowledge growth.


Karen Morton is Technical Leader, Energy Information at the National Energy Board. The views expressed in this article are Karen’s alone and not those of the National Energy Board.


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