From Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (
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National Academies Symposium on the Role of Scientific and Technical Data and Information in the Public Domain,
Washington, D.C., September 6, 2002

Transfer of Private Geologic Data to the Public Domain

Shirley P. Dutton


Shell Oil Company developed a new paradigm for the transfer of private geologic data to the public domain in a business model that has since been modified and followed by Altura and BP. These companies have donated more than a million boxes of valuable geologic core samples to the Bureau of Economic Geology, a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin. The companies have also provided data about the cores-state, county, operator, lease, and depth, and, in many cases, unique well number (API number). These data will be available over the Internet in a searchable database. A critical aspect of the donations is that the companies also donated the buildings used to store the cores and provided cash endowments that allow the Bureau to operate the facilities and provide public access to the data. A feature perhaps unique to geologic data is the high cost of preserving it; rocks are heavy and take up a lot of space. Curating the cores in an organized way and physically retrieving them for researchers to view and sample take space and manpower. The university would not have been able to accept these core donations without the accompanying endowments.

In the United States, the company that acquires geologic data such as core samples owns them. Many large U.S. petroleum companies have closed their research labs and are reducing or eliminating the cost of maintaining privately owned core-sample collections that they once housed for proprietary use. The business models used by Shell, Altura, and BP have worked well in transferring private data to the public domain, models that could be applied at a national level.