Landowners in Ponoka County are able to check for oil and gas activity near their property in a matter of seconds thanks to the website database WellWiki.org.
For example, ‘WellWiki’ shows there are more than 7,000 wells in Ponoka County in varying stages of their life cycles, including 1,562 wells that are inactive.
The website was developed by University of Alberta professor Joel Gehman for the use of the average property owner as well as municipalities and other stakeholders.
“I think it’s an interesting project because in Alberta … you drive down the road and … oil and gas clearly has a visible presence in the province,” said Gehman.
He added that whether you’re pro or con oil and gas, having access to information is “an important aspect of democracy.”
Gehman says his interest in developing the website grew out of the research he was doing while he was a PhD student at Penn State. Fracking was in the news a lot at the time, and he was “intrigued by the controversy.”
When he came to the U of A in 2012 as a member of the faculty, he started WellWiki with the use of a research grant.
Information about lease sites or wells can be difficult for landowners and citizens to find and access, and the site is a collection of data that makes it easy to read and understand, says Gehman.
The site was launched in 2013. The goal of the site is to catalogue every oil and gas well ever permitted or drilled in Canada and the United States.
So far, more than 4.3 million wells have been documented and Gehman estimates there could be as many as 5.8 million in total in North America.
Gehman says it’s a “moving target” and the site is constantly being updated.
The project continues to expand, with the help of interns and under grad students that help to update the site each year.
Last year, a large update was completed, expanding the site to include well sites in Saskatchewan and several more American states.
More recently, the site was updated to include more than 619,000 wells in Alberta, thanks to funding received from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF).
AREF was interested in his work as well site information is relevant to buyers and sellers of agricultural or ranch land.
The website also includes information on regulatory and policy changes and a detailed reference source for landowners dealing with oil and gas exploration on their property.
The idea is to make WellWiki a ‘one-stop-shop’ for well sites. And the data collected, mostly gleaned from regulators, can be quite extensive for each site, though data varies.
Oil and gas activity started in North America in the 1850s, and since, million of wells have been drilled, including hundreds of thousands of wells on private and public land in Alberta.
Landowners have leased land for oil wells on their property for the shared benefits of resource extraction and in passed years, many municipalities relied on tax revenue from well sites, says Gehman.
Gehman is a professor of strategy, entrepreneurship and management (SEM); the Alberta School of Business chair in free enterprise; and director of the Canadian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, in the department of SEM.