Geotimes

Web Extra  Tuesday, August 20

Gifts place more core in the public trust

BP recently donated millions of dollars worth of rock cores it collected during its domestic explorations to the state surveys of Oklahoma and Texas.

Earlier this month, BP donated its Houston warehouse of cores and cuttings to the Bureau of Economic Geology, which serves as the Texas state geological survey. The gift, which includes land and an endowment to help maintain the warehouse, is valued at $7.5 million.

The 200,000 boxes of core and 200,000 boxes of cuttings are rock samples that BP, Amoco and Arco (the latter two having merged with BP) acquired over decades as they explored for oil and gas around the United States.

The gift makes the Bureau curator for about 2 million boxes of core, says Scott Tinker, director of the Bureau. One box can hold up to 10 feet of core. The Bureau is now keeper of one of North America's three largest core collections, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which maintains the Core Research Center in Denver; and Canada's Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, which maintains the the Core Research Centre in Calgary.

A week earlier, BP also gave 125,000 boxes of Amoco core to the Oklahoma Geological Survey. That gift included $3 million to help the Survey purchase a warehouse in Norman in which to store the core, and to create an endowment to maintain it, says Charles Mankin, Oklahoma State Geologist. The core adds to the Survey's approximately 90,000 boxes of core and 100,000 boxes of cuttings, which will be stored in the same warehouse. "Anyone who wants any information about the Midcontinent, and more particularly about Oklahoma, they can come to one place and get it," Mankin says.

"This gift is the largest of its kind to date in the United States," Tinker says of the Texas gift. "The data themselves of these three large companies have never been made public. … It's good for the state of Texas to develop a model for saving these data."

BP recently donated its Houston-based core repository, pictured above, to the Bureau of Economic Geology, which functions as the state geological survey for Texas. Photo taken by David M. Stephens, Bureau photographer.

The Texas model is one the National Research Council (NRC) recently cited as an ideal solution to problems of preserving core that oil companies no longer need. In June, NRC released a report documenting that some geoscience data and collections in the United States are in danger of being lost. (Geotimes, June 2002).

"Any repository is at risk of being disposed of once a company has gotten particular information out of it, and if a company decides it's not in their best interest to keep it," says Christopher Maples, a professor at Indiana University and chair of the NRC Committee on the Preservation of Geoscience Data and Collections. "But that doesn't mean other information can't be gotten out of it. That's the key here. A lot of these data have additional uses that other people can find."

BP is giving its Houston-based core repository to the Bureau, and the oil company's gift includes a contribution for an endowment that will eventually support the cost of maintaining the cores and cuttings. Funding from the Department of Energy will support the repository during its first year, Tinker says. The Bureau used a similar formula when it acquired its Midland core repository from Shell and Altura Energy Ltd. in the early 1990s. That repository's endowment now covers its operating expenses.

This model is a win-win situation for all involved, says Tom Michalski, curator-in-charge of the USGS Core Research Center, which houses about 1 million feet of core. BP no longer pays to maintain or dispose of the core, but can still access it. And the Bureau receives a contribution from BP that will support maintenance of the core. "In the past, companies have given their cores to state and federal repositories with no donation," Michalski says. Before Shell and the Bureau created this new model with the Midland donation, Michalski adds, the burden of maintaining donated core fell to state or federal governments.

"To rebuild this one-of-a-kind data set would be impossible," Tinker says of the BP gift. "The cost to acquire all that core and those cuttings would run into the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars."

The Bureau, which is also a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, can use the cores and cuttings for research in areas such as climate change, hydrology, landscape evolution, paleobiology, engineering and geohazards, and environmental issues.

The cores are tools for assembling a 3-D image of Earth's subsurface, Mankin says. "Until you understand the rock properties themselves, you really are severely handicapped in trying to thoroughly understand the third dimension," Mankin says.

"The reality of a core is it's invaluable," he adds. "It's like a rare book. You're not going to do it again."

Kristina Bartlett

Links:

National Research Council report on preserving data and collections

Texas Bureau of Economic Geology

Oklahoma Geological Survey


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