learning python and RRC

Published on: Author: nwile Leave a comment

Howdy cohort 5 from downtown Austin!  I was fortunate enough to find an internship in the Austin area with the Railroad Commission of Texas.  I am working with the geology ground water drilling department where they determine if folks who own land and mineral rights to a piece of land are actually going to be able to drill and use that right.  They work under the federal regulations of the 1993 Safe Water Drinking Act to protect ground water from contamination.

Specifically, the purpose of this internship is complete an independent project to integrate commonly used tables by the Texas Railroad Commission geologists in the Groundwater Advisory Unit(GAU) using ArcGIS for every county in the state of Texas. Currently they are manually adding applicable tables to GIS every time they get a new request permit for ground water drilling or new oil derricks.  They have over 100 tables and 254 counties in Texas.   For each permit, the geologists have to run specific queries to ensure the environment is stable enough in the area to handle oil or injection waste drilling in the immediate area or to hydraulically fracture the subterranean area surrounding wells, which is also more commonly known as fracking.  Fracking involves injecting non-oil, usually run off water, back into the ground at high pressure to produce fractures that allow crude oil to flow to surrounding area wells for extraction.  Several different maps with area fault lines, aquifers and existing oil wells have to be run for each permit per federal and state regulations.

The GAU team would like to migrate to ArcSDE servers for their future spatial data queries, this application of ArcGIS software allows a real time update to the geodatabase with multiple licenses that can be used simultaneously.  Currently, with ArcGIS each GAU geologist must upload their changes multiple times daily and more than one person cannot work on the data at the concurrently since each save to a layer would overwrite the other.  This single user system complicates their work, is time consuming and inefficient. To implement this new system, the GAU division needs some assistance with data migration so the ArcSDE would be operational with all their tables and layers before going live at the Railroad Commission.

The first table schema


I am transforming the existing 254 tables from shapefiles for each counties specifics to be consistent with each other so they can be merged after deleting duplicate or inapplicable information to geologist’s permitting.  I am building these layers in a test environment called a sandbox so as not to disrupt daily usage for the Railroad Commission’s geologists.  I had to learn a coding language known as Python to do this as well as using a built in function of ArcGIS called Model Builder that works as a visual programming language for non-coders.  Instead of manually copying the existing 254 tables from feature tables in ArcGIS, I can write the code to merge the columns that represent the same data but are named with slightly different variations.  Then, I can output the tables into one.

Python coding script for one part of replacement string

Eventually, I will set up each GAU layer identically for the 254 counties with compatible tables so they can be merged and used as one large layer or individual counties depending on the type of permit requested and map scale necessary.  The process to do so will be involve designing one table scheme for each of four types of GAU layers.  Then I copied all 254 tables for each GAU layer and placed them into a developmental directory where they can be transformed for each project without influencing the actual working files themselves.  This is transformation period I am in now with one of the four tables complete.  I have four weeks left in my internship and hope to finish the following.  I will use ArcCatalog to merge the 254 tables from current schema to a new one while preserving the data’s integrity.  Then I will run a test permit running the scripts against the working layers to transform all layers into new schema.  If it works then it will be deployed for use in GAU’s production environment in daily ground water determination projects.

This internship offers me an opportunity to complete an independent project that will be used in daily work for the Railroad Commission, which would be quite an accomplishment and the chance to further build my GIS skills that are a requirement in many environmental positions.

Looking forward to hearing about y’alls internships in a few weeks!

Nicole Moore

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