Use of Earth Observation Data for Oil and Gas

GIS Contributor


Andrew Cutts, owner of ACGeospatial, discusses the role of GIS and earth observation data in the oil and gas industry in this guest article.  

Earth Observation (EO) data should be a more attractive proposition today than ever before. The USGS suggests the Landsat program is “a stunning return on public investment”. Since the free and open data policy start in 2008 the number of downloaded scenes has increased exponentially.

Not all EO data is free of course, but we have come a long way from the 1990s when a Landsat scene cost greater than $4000. A World Oil article written in 2002 talks about “the growing tie between remote sensing and GIS” and that “The range of remote sensing uses has increased in recent years, and now the role includes integration into sophisticated, quantitative, structural models; surface layers for data cubes; backdrops for GIS models; detailed fracture analyses; logistical and route planning; and environmental assessment, documentation and monitoring.”

The rate of downloads of Landsat data is increasing rapidly. Image credit: USGS.
The rate of accessing Landsat data is increasing rapidly. Image credit: USGS.

The use of EO data in Oil and Gas goes even further back, with imagery being used in the early 1970s. Landsat 1 was launched in 1972. The point is that the use of EO data within the Oil and Gas sector is not a new thing. In this decade the EO industry is undergoing a step change, more and more satellites are being launched providing increasing spatial and spectral resolution. Everywhere you look the message is consistent –  the EO industry is expanding and the use of EO data in Oil and Gas should be looked at again.

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Planned Satellite Launches. Image reproduced with permission from Dan Plant @ Terrabotics ©Terrabotics

In 2014 the European Space Agency (ESA) and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) funded a project called the EO4OG (Earth Observation for Oil and Gas). The aim was to “to undertake a comprehensive study of the geo-information needs of the O&G sector and what EO services / products could help meet those needs”.  It was undertaken by 4 separate consortiums.

The website is rich in content and information. I put together a YouTube video highlighting the key parts although the site is pretty intuitive:

YouTube video

The project identified 225 “challenges” covering onshore and offshore operations. They are listed in entirety here. One of the great things about the challenges is that they have been converted into interactive “Challenge trees”.

Image from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016)
Image from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016).

These challenge trees allow for quick navigation. Click on a challenge and it will take you to the product sheet. The challenges found by each consortium are coloured by the bounding box (in the example above OTM is blue and Hatfield is orange). There is no repetition within each consortium’s challenges. Surface geological mapping is perhaps best highlighted in desert conditions, such as the Qattara Depression.

The Qattara Depression in Western Desert, Egypt. Image ©ACGeospatial
The Qattara Depression in Western Desert, Egypt. Image ©ACGeospatial.

An example – OTM-051 Identification of fault lines

Clicking on the identification of fault lines you will be taken to a detailed description of the challenge. “Identification of geological features can give reasonable and early indications of likely reservoir locations.  These are more easily seen in clear or deserted regions but areas of forested / agricultural land where the surface is covered or artificially modified, it is difficult to see these”. Each challenge contains comprehensive information about the Challenge and the current ways of addressing it, plus a challenge classification and known restrictions. Relevant products that help address the challenge are also listed on a separate tab.

In this example

  • Elevation
  • Fault Identification
  • Faults and discontinuities
  • Floodplain mapping and flood risk assessment
  • Reservoir optimization
  • Slope
  • Surface Deformation
  • Surface Deformation Monitoring
  • Terrain Roughness

If you click on Faults and discontinuities, you will be taken to a product sheet ( This provides a clear overview of uses, geoinformation requirements, description, limitations/restrictions and coverage. It also will reconnect back to any challenge that this product addresses. Finally, in the product sheet you will get information about how to create a faults and discontinuities map, the data sources, the spatial resolution, the minimum mapping unit, accuracy & constraints, frequency, availability and output format. These product sheets were based on a light version of the Document Requirements Definition (DRD) set out by EARSC.

19 case studies

Image from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016)
Image from the EO4OG webpage (accessed July 2016).

The EO4OG project also helpfully created 19 case studies. Again they are split into Onshore and Offshore case studies, but each one contains a tab either called ‘Outcomes’ or ‘Results & Perspectives’. The case studies have a global coverage, with a broad range of climatic zones highlighting the reach of the Oil and Gas industry.


EO data has in the past been oversold to the Oil and Gas Sector. The rapid improvement in spatial and spectral resolution, added to the increasing temporal coverage plus a move towards machine learning and ‘Earth Observation 2.0’ is making EO data more attractive today. The work produced by the EO4OG sets a framework to solve common industry problems. Time to look at EO again.

About the Author

Andrew Cutts MSc BSc(Hons) is the owner of ACGeospatial, a GIS and Remote Sensing company focused on Oil and Gas based in the UK. He has over 10 years’ industry experience. He regularly blogs at

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