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Permian Space Race: Satellites become latest tool for competitive shale play.

By Sergio Chapa, Houston Chronicle | August 29, 2019

Josh Adler presenting Sourcewater's satellite imagery
Sourcewater CEO Josh Adler talks about the next steps his company will be taking using satellite imagery at the company’s office in downtown Houston, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.

Forget the moon. Forget Mars, too. While China, India, Russia and the United States jostle for an interplanetary edge, an intensifying space race is underway in the outer reaches of the earth’s atmosphere where energy companies are seeking to gain a competitive advantage in the Permian Basin.

At least a half dozen energy data firms are offering satellite imaging of the 75,000-square mile oil field to provide intelligence to energy companies on the activities ranging from the appearance of drilling pads and hydraulic fracturing ponds to the movements of drilling rigs and fracking crews across Permian’s expanse in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Some data companies have launched their own satellites to monitor the Permian while others buy images from NASA, the European Space Agency and commercial operators. Each of the data companies are trying to set themselves apart by how they process those images and the market intelligence that they derive.

That intelligence can be vital in a notoriously secretive industry. In the increasingly crowded Permian, where companies are drilling into the same geologic formations in close proximity, oil and gas producers want to know where competitors are operating to making sure their horizontal drilling, which can across the shale play for miles, doesn’t interfere with other companies operations. For oilfield services companies, the intelligence provides business leads on which drilling sites and producers will need equipment and crews.

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NOTE: Want a free demonstration of Sourcewater’s satellite imagery analysis and live satellite imagery feed? Click here to schedule yourself for a free tour.

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Environmental groups, meanwhile, are using satellite images to track pollution and the flaring, or burning off, of natural gas in oil fields across the United States. One of those environmental groups plans to launch a satellite of its own in 2021 to track global emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas.

Energy data firms have used satellites for years to gauge storage tank volumes and track the movements of tankers in the world’s oceans, but using them to monitor onshore exploration and production activity in shale plays is new. The first satellite services to monitor shale activity appeared just two years ago.

Satellite images paired with analysis can provide more detailed information at a much lower cost and more safely than planes, drones or teams of people driving along rural roadways, the data services companies said.

“You would need a team of over 100 people working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to do the same thing our patented artificial intelligence does in less than one hour — scan the entire Permian Basin to spot every new well pad and frac pond every five days,” said Josh Adler, CEO of the Houston oilfield data company SourceWater.

Satellite Tech

Launched in 2014, SourceWater began as an online platform for landowners, drilling rig operators, hydraulic fracturing companies and disposal well operators to buy, sell or move freshwater and wastewater in the oilfield. Since drilling for freshwater and building frac ponds does not require permits, tracking that type of activity was difficult and labor intensive.

“In the early days, we would drive around, see a roadside sign by a frac pond for somebody selling water and call the number,” Adler said. “The landowner was always thrilled to hear that they could sell their water on the internet — so the question became how could we find all these people?”

Satellite images released every five days by NASA, the European Space Agency and other sources provided the answers. SourceWater engineers developed an artificial intelligence program that looks for new drilling pads and frac ponds, which appear as either white or blue-green squares in the desert landscape.

Drilling pads and frac ponds appear months ahead of drilling permit filings, making them reliable predictors of future exploration and production activity, Adler said. Many times, he said, rigs are already in place before drilling permits are published while hydraulic fracturing crews finish their work weeks, months or sometimes even a year before reports are released by regulators.

“Everybody who is selling anything in the Permian Basin — whether it’s Halliburton or Schlumberger or a pipeline company or a construction service or a water hauling company — everybody — wants to know who will be drilling where and when,” Adler said. “We can now do that months ahead of permits.”

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NOTE: Want a free demonstration of Sourcewater’s satellite imagery analysis and live satellite imagery feed? Click here to schedule yourself for a free tour.

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The original article can be found here.

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