in the United States had their own private core collections that they would use internally within that company. In most cases, these cores were not made available to anyone outside the company.
Currently, in the oil industry, many of the research labs and private core facilities are closing. The companies are finding that they have several choices of what to do with their core collections. They can keep them, but there is an expense involved in doing this. It is expensive to maintain a facility or rent warehouse space to store rock. Another choice is to discard the cores. This may be the least expensive choice, but it is not without cost. Core collections represent a large volume of material, and discarding the rocks would involve some expense. Or they can choose to donate the data, and several companies have recently done this. As a matter of fact, I am not aware of an instance of any large oil company that has closed a repository and thrown away the rocks. Oil company executives realize that this is valuable material that would be a shame to throw away. So they are exploring the options and developing business models for donating it instead.
The decision to donate material to a public facility must make business sense to the company considering the donation. Although cost avoidance, such as staff salaries for maintaining the collection, rental of warehouse space, and other operational costs, is a big factor in the decision to transfer data from the private to the public domain, it is rarely the only reason. These decisions are usually based on several issues that include cost savings, as well as other factors such as continuing access to the data without the overhead, preservation of the data in case there is a return to it for unforeseen reasons (oil and gas data might someday be used to explore for water, for example), goodwill with the community (data may be used for education and outreach), future disposal costs, and, when endowments to fund the facility are included, tax incentives.
The first of these donations was made in 1994 by Shell Oil Company to The University of Texas at Austin. They developed a model that allowed the university to accept this donation. Shell had a huge amount of rock material to donate, and with no additional resources, the university would not have been able to accept it. However, in addition to giving the rock material, Shell also donated the Midland, Texas warehouse where they had stored the cores, so the university would have a place to keep the rocks. The other important factor was Shell's donation of $1.3 million toward an endowment; the money in the endowment could be used by The University of Texas to operate the facility and make the data available to anyone who wanted to use them. Thus, we have an example of a physical collection that had always been proprietary, which has now entered the public domain. It can be used by academic researchers, and it can even be used by geologists from other oil companies now.
The amount of money that was provided by Shell was very generous, but it was not enough to completely endow the facility. The University of Texas received a bridging grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to operate the facility for five years. This was very important, and enabled the donation to proceed. With this government grant to pay operating expenses, the university could reserve the money that Shell had donated. Additional money was raised to increase the endowment, and now the amount of money in the endowment covers the operating expenses of this facility.
A few years after Shell made this donation, another energy company, Altura, also wanted to donate their cores. The Altura cores were also stored in Midland. It did not make sense to have two different warehouse facilities in different parts of Midland, so Altura donated money to build another warehouse adjacent to the former Shell warehouse. This way the cores could physically be in the same place, and the same staff would be able to curate both collections. This was another important model, a little different than Shell's donation, which allowed the Altura donation to happen.
In August 2002, British Petroleum (BP) made a large donation of cores and cuttings from oil and gas exploration wells. They also donated the warehouse in Houston where they had stored this material, along with a research building and 12 acres of land. Again, following the Shell model, they made a $1.5 million donation toward an endowment. This monetary donation makes a very important contribution toward an endowment to run the facility. The university will be attempting over the next several years to build up that endowment so it is enough to operate the facility. DOE has provided another critically important grant for the initial operating expenses of this facility.
One exciting aspect of the BP donation is the office and lab facility that they gave along with the warehouse. The building includes modern core examination rooms with roller tables and excellent lighting for viewing cores.