IGEM collaboration important first step in voluntary industry data sharing

The success of a pilot project that generated a snapshot of environmental data relevant to impact assessment and monitoring off the northwest coast is on track to begin sharing industry meta-data from the many industry funded studies in Western Australia.

Several conscientious oil and gas companies have taken the initiative by agreeing to share information about the huge number of datasets they collect.

Woodside, Chevron, Inpex, Murphy Oil Australia, PTTEP, Quadrant Energy (formally Apache), Santos, Shell Australia, facilitated by their peak industry body APPEA, are creating a meta-database called the Industry-Government Environmental Meta-database (IGEM), which is being developed and operated by the Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI).   

Metadata is information about data. It tells you where, how, when and what data was collected.  As well as these companies, WAMSI, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the state government Departments of Parks and Wildlife, and Fisheries are also contributing their own metadata to the IGEM.

“As an industry, we collect a huge amount of data,” Chair of the APPEA Environment and Safety Committee Gerry Flaherty said. “But right now only the companies who pay for the projects know what has been collected.  If we have an emergency we need to respond to quickly. Having a place where everyone can see what information is out there will dramatically improve our response.”

“This will be a great advantage for IGEM partners in projects to inform regulatory processes or for research purposes, not just response,” WAMSI CEO Patrick Seares said. “It means they can look at the IGEM to see what already exists, then negotiate access to it with the owners rather than doing expensive duplicate fieldwork.”

IGEM will have the capacity to increase its key datasets but it will begin with using metadata collected post-2008 in seven key areas: mangroves; benthic habitats; demersal fish, nesting turtles, seabirds and shorebirds, megafauna; and sediment quality.

Subscribers will be able to search for relevant environmental studies by research activity in a specific area; the date it was collected; the organisation that collected the data; type of data; and key words.

The in-development web-based platform should initially provide access to geospatial metadata records on key studies off Western Australia, but with the potential to expand nationally. The site will have a page accessible to the general public with limited information and a log-in interface for approved members who can generate reports.

“I hope as we can start seeing the system evolve that other companies, agencies and research groups see the positives in this process and follow the lead of the current participants,” Patrick Seares said. “Sharing metadata has so many upsides and really doesn’t expose the data owners to any risk.”

The IGEM platform is expected to be available by early 2016.