Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Basics

What makes “Smart” maps so smart?

By now, I’m hoping many of you are taking advantage of some the great free resources available for researching and mapping oil and gas assets.  In my past 2 articles on due diligence I’ve leaned heavily on Oklahoma state-sponsored web sites for maps and data.  In this article, I would like to look behind these (and all other) web-based maps and show you the engine driving them…Geographic Information Systems (GIS).


You might remember me referring to GIS as “Smart” maps previously.  Now, I’m going to show you what makes these GIS maps so smart!   The OK Maps website provides a perfect illustration for this topic.

When the map opens, the list on the left of the image is a depiction of the GIS layers stored within the OK Maps GIS.  Each of the themes or “layers” as they’re called, contain location-based data that can be viewed in a map individually or in combination with other themes available on the site.  Look closely at the map above.  The states, counties, highways, etc. are GIS layers within the OKMaps site.

Now, for the part that makes the map above a “Smart” map. Each of the layers in the map is also connected its own database containing information about each of the features within the layer. For example, the county layer will have information about each county in the map.  In the example below, I’ve clicked on Kingfisher County in the map and the database associated with the layer displays.  It’s a map + data in a one-to-one relationship.

And, that, my friends, is the real power behind ‘Smart” maps!  The map layers and their respective databases.  To illustrate a bit more of the power behind the map, let’s look at another example from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Oil and Gas Info web map.

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On the right side of the map, you’ll see all the OCC’s map layers.  Click on a theme to see the map layers within it.  You can turn them off and on in the map by simply clicking in the box under the “Visible” column.  A click in the “Active” column tells the GIS to make the layer ready for a user to make inquiries into its database.  In the image above, I have the Wells layer Visible and Active.

The left side of the map provides users the ability to search for information in the OCC’s GIS about locations on the map.  In the example below, I’ve searched for wells within a section of Kingfisher County.

The search results now focus the map on the section and depict the wells within it.  The database associated with the wells layer is also shown in the search results window below the map.

So, there it is, the secret to making “Smart” maps smart.  Without the data behind the map you just have a map with “dumb” graphics on it.  If you have questions about GIS or you would like to turn your data into a “Smart” map, I’m here to help.  All you need is data with location-based information such as address, well locations, or legal descriptions.  Email me at

Julie Parker has a decade of experience serving the Energy industry where she became an expert in the integration and application of geospatial technologies to exploration and production projects and workflows. Ms. Parker entered the industry in 2006 when she became the first GIS Director for Chesapeake Energy, a large independent producer of natural gas headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with operations throughout the U.S. During her tenure at Chesapeake, Ms. Parker built and lead a robust, cross-functional GIS department that gained a reputation for developing and deploying leading edge solutions for nearly all areas of the company.

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