With its Democratic government firmly in place, South Africa has become one of the African nations with promising oil and natural gas reserves that are safe for legitimate exploration. The country has an estimated tens of trillion cubic feet of natural gas underneath its wildernesses—a resource that, properly tapped, could assist in nation building.
So the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (PASA) went on a global sales trip of sorts last year, trying to interest outside oil companies in the country’s natural gas reserves. PASA representatives visited Johannesburg, London, Houston, TX, and Long Beach, CA, and now the agency has plenty of potential investors applying for exploration acreage. The problem, however, was managing all the associated paperwork.
“Before we undertook this project, we had 14 companies interested in exploring natural oil and gas deposits in our country, and now we have 60,” says PASA’s Sithembiso Ngubane. “We have to make sure they all play by the rules.”
Yet at the same time, PASA did not want to discourage interested applicants with burdensome paperwork, so it needed to make its application process as fast as it was thorough.
In each application, performance bonds have to be signed and credit histories also must be documented. Each company permitted to drill must also donate $150,000 for educational programs aimed at educating South Africans in exploration-related sciences.
And any company that’s allowed to sink exploratory wells must provide a plan to clean-up and restore damaged areas, in the event of a disaster. Mineral rights and royalty agreements must also be secured in iron-clad contracts.
There are many documents in each application that, once filled out, need to be instantly accessible to make sure all those agreements are adhered to when the exploration starts, Ngubane says.
From the start, it was clear that an electronic document management system was needed to keep it all straight. Any such system had to have a workflow module capacity with Web-based portal software options and sufficient security features to enable the database to go online without allowing public access. The system that could deliver all that at a reasonable price tag, Ngubane says, was Laserfiche.
It took a year before South Africa’s official record keeping agency, the National Archive and Records Service, would sign off on PASA’s plan to digitize its documents and records.
Ngubane says Laserfiche provided a secure database to manage PASA’s information assets, as well as streamline its processes. “Keeping all the contractual specifics in a friendly and secure electronic database will keep everybody aware of the agreements and commitments made,” he adds. “This way if there is a dispute over agreements, we can quickly pull the pertinent documents out of Laserfiche to settle it.”
With Laserfiche it is also more difficult for missed obligations to go unnoticed by PASA staff. When performance timelines are broken, Laserfiche notifies the system operator accordingly when the applicant’s file is opened, Ngubane says.
The system is still very much a work in progress. A GIS integration module is being developed that will tie spatial information into PASA’s current Laserfiche database. Once this takes place, PASA hopes to offer interested companies the ability to preliminarily explore South Africa’s oil and natural gas prospects online.
An electronic library of geology, hydrology, topography and myriad other data surveys that PASA scanned into Laserfiche will also be tied into the spatial information module, all of which will be made available to qualified prospectors through a secure Web-based portal. That will let tech savvy prospectors know early on if field exploration in South Africa is warranted.
Using Laserfiche, PASA will benefit from a much quicker turnaround time in responding to inquiries, another strong selling point for potential customers. And Laserfiche could eventually help cut millions off the cost of extracting natural oil and gas in South Africa, making the country even more attractive to prospectors—a big return on a comparatively small investment.