SolSpec Awarded Grant to Develop Inspection Tool for North Dakota Oil and Gas

SolSpec Awarded Grant to Develop Inspection Tool for North Dakota Oil and Gas

The project accepted by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) is titled Development of Operational Aerial Analytics for Remotely Measuring Reclamation Success, and seeks, over a 16-month period, to develop, validate, and automate aerial imaging and analysis methodologies for assessing oil and gas well site reclamation progress within North Dakota, specifically in the Bakken oil fields. We are grateful for the collaboration of Whiting Petroleum Corporation on this project, as this research is only possible thanks to their support and access granted to their well pads in North Dakota.

Why is North Dakota investing improvements for well pad reclamation inspections?

North Dakota leadership strives to position the State as an incubator for oil and gas technologies that protect public and environmental health and also ensure industry vitality. Since taking office in 2016, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has promoted the development of a safe and sustainable oil and gas economy. Governor Burgum advocates that this development be achieved through technological innovation instead of establishing further regulation. In line with his stated agenda, Governor Burgum signed a bill in 2019 appropriating funds to establish a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) program for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the state, with a focus on the Bakken oil fields as the program’s first proving grounds. A BVLOS program is crucial to increase the efficiency of inspections, especially in areas where the sites (in this case, well pads) are remote and often hard to access. With a BVLOS program, inspectors using UAS can fly to and gather imagery from sites remotely, without the need to physically be present.

What are the current reclamation challenges for oil and gas operators in North Dakota?

The short answer? Lots of well sites to inspect, most in remote locations, with few people to do time-consuming in-person inspections.

North Dakota is currently home to 15,571 active wells whose sites must be reclaimed according to federal and state requirements. State law requires that any land disturbed by oil and gas activity “shall be reclaimed as close as practicable to its original condition as it existed before the construction of the well site or other disturbance.” The NDIC endeavors to annually inspect each plugged well site until reclamation standards are met. Depending on site conditions, the full reclamation process of a single site can take anywhere from three to ten years.

As of September 2019, the State counted approximately 1,500 wells in some stage of reclamation, with NDIC’s 32 field inspectors splitting annual field inspection visits to each. Inspections typically take place during a 90-day window in the late summer and early fall, and when the weather supports a site visit during that period an inspector typically spends an hour
examining the area by foot. Depending on the varying backlog of sites needing inspection, a single inspector is responsible for covering approximately 50 sites per year, many of which are dispersed across a large, discontinuous area – the Bakken oil field and its wells stretch across nearly 30,000 square miles of North Dakota:

North Dakota contains thousands of well sites in need of inspection and reclamation (map source).

Reclamation inspections are resource-intensive for the NDIC and are further complicated by the subjectivity inherent to human inspections. Boots-on-the-ground monitoring means that a site’s reclamation progress—and whether or not a site is deemed sufficiently reclaimed for clearance—is determined by visually assessing and summarizing if the site has been restored as closely as practicable to original conditions. Though field protocols and inspection forms help to control for subjectivity and variation among many different field inspectors’ assessment techniques, it is still extremely difficult to standardize human interpretations of a landscape.

How can UAS help meet the challenges faced in North Dakota?

Innovation in the industry is focused on increased efficiency, and remote sensing technologies such as UAS promote increased efficiency and improved safety. Aerial data collection and analytics can offer insights that empower the oil and gas industry and its regulatory agencies to both save money and support environmental sustainability. The widespread adoption of UAS in the oil and gas sector, however, requires two essential actions:

  1. validation of the methodology as a means of reducing costs and fulfilling compliance requirements, and
  2. automation of data processing and analytics that derive meaningful information from aerial data.

Implementing these actions will bolster the adoption and operationalization of UAS for North Dakota’s oil and gas industry and agencies. The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) highlights the state’s well site reclamation program as a candidate for improving efficiencies through the adoption of remote sensing technology.

What are SolSpec’s goals with the NDIC grant?

The project proposed by SolSpec and accepted by the NDIC seeks to develop, validate, and automate aerial imaging and analysis methodologies for assessing oil and gas well site reclamation progress within the state. Motivated by a desire to support North Dakota’s oil and gas industry in achieving safety and stewardship goals through innovation, SolSpec’s team seeks to empower operators and agencies with the best available technology and information needed to improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and ensure the safety and sustainability of oil and gas operations in North Dakota.

oil pump north dakota

Drone imagery and remote sensing technology will play a huge role in the organization and resource effectiveness for well site restoration in North Dakota.

Additionally, the aim for this project is also to maximize returns on investment for the State of North Dakota by addressing NDIC research priorities, including:

Data Management:
    • Consideration of which data storage architecture is optimum for data management needs.
    • Development of a trusted third-party data organization system accessible by industry and regulators.
Decision Tools
    • Consideration of how image processing can produce decision support tools from gross data.
    • Consideration of what data are visualized and provided to leaders for decision making.
    • Development of imagery analysis tools that enable cost estimates for completing site reclamation.
Cost-Effectiveness Analysis
    • Analysis of the cost-effectiveness of using remote sensing technologies for well site reclamation assessment compared to current procedures employed by industry and agencies.
Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

poudre watershed location

The Poudre River Watershed is a source for drinking water, recreation, and ecosystem functionality in the Fort Collins, CO area. Source: Coalition for the Poudre Watershed

What is the Poudre River Watershed and why is it important?

The Cache la Poudre River (pronounced “pooh-der” in American English) literally means “hide the powder” in French – the name comes from an instance in which stockpiles of gunpowder were preserved by trappers via burial along the riverside. The river is in northern Colorado and is popular for fishing, as well as hiking and other outdoor activities. To learn more, check out a full exploration of the watershed and detailed overview of how snowmelt impacts the river flow.

The Cache la Poudre River Watershed drains approximately 1,056 square miles above the canyon mouth west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The watershed supports the Front Range cities of Fort Collins, Greeley, Timnath, and Windsor. In an average year, the watershed produces approximately 274,000 acre feet of water. More than 80 percent of the production occurs during the peak snowmelt months of April through July. Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. The region has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

a look at the poudre river watershed

How do wildfires negatively impact ecosystems and successful land management?

Large, severe wildfires can have far-reaching adverse effects on ecosystem function, human health, and economic well-being. Wildfires remove vegetation from the landscape and alter surface hydrology, which increase the risk of flash floods and erosion. Following wildfires, increased runoff can transport large amounts of soil, ash, and debris downstream, potentially contaminating water supplies and threatening water infrastructure and the communities dependent thereon.

Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. Norther Colorado has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

An award from the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed and American Forests Foundation

Reducing wildfire fuels through forest thinning treatments is a common method for reducing the risk and consequences of wildfire. When treated areas do burn, they tend to do so at lower intensities, which results in lower burn severity is lower and fewer undesirable effects. While these ecosystem dynamics are understood, there is still uncertainty about the actual extent of public benefits gained from wildfire mitigation treatments. For instance, if a thinned area experiences a wildfire, how much was burn severity reduced by the treatment, thereby minimizing the sedimentation of waterways that impacts water quality?

The project proposed by SolSpec strives to address the information gap by measuring and modeling the sediment reduction benefits generated by hazardous fuel forest treatments in the Cache la Poudre watershed. The anticipated deliverables will enable stakeholders to better quantify and communicate returns on investment from forest treatment activities and allocate resources for optimized mitigation benefits to the public.

Who are our partners?

The Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed has a mission to improve and maintain the ecological health of the Poudre River Watershed through community collaboration. They work to achieve this mission by focusing on:

  1. watershed resilience;
  2. river restoration;
  3. forests and fires; and
  4. post-fire restoration.

The American Forests Foundation works on-the-ground with family forest owners, partners, and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage.

Specific goals for the project

In this grant SolSpec aims to answer two specific questions:

  1. H​ow much sediment are Elkhorn and Lone Pine Creek watersheds contributing downstream under current conditions without a wildfire, and what would the percent change in sediment production under current conditions be after a catastrophic wildfire?
  2. Which areas of the watershed are the highest priority for forest restoration treatments in order to gain the largest benefit in potential sediment production within the Lone Pine and Elkhorn Creek drainages?

This work meets the SolSpec vision to transform data into solutions for a safer and more sustainable planet.

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

Award from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

SolSpec is pleased to announce our pending grant with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Our work with them will focus on creating a new and more comprehensive method for quantifying hydrological processes and soil moisture gradients to be used as a tool in delineating ecosystems, vegetation communities, and soil properties.

topographic wetness index

A glimpse of the topographic wetness index (TWI). Blue indicates wet and brown indicates dry.

Who is USDA Natural Resources Conservation?

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service focuses on improving natural resources and land management. They do this through improving resource conditions, such as soil quality, water quality, water quantity, air quality, habitat quality, and/or energy efficiency. They work with farmers and ranchers to develop conservation plans and implement practices, including water development and vegetation improvements for livestock, improved irrigation systems, and forest management practices that address natural resource concerns on their land. They also promote land management research and data through partnering with federal and state agencies, universities, and professional services to deliver land management information.

What is TWI and how is it used in current land management practices?

 Digital terrain indices to predict soil wetness  generalize topographic variables that drive hydrological processes and are commonly used to help identify hydrological flow paths for geochemical modeling, as well as to characterize biological processes such as annual net primary production, vegetation patterns, and forest site quality” (source). TWI is an excepted analytic for local soil property (biogeochemistry) and ecosystem modeling (vegetation communities and wet land delineations), but limited when implemented over large landscapes. The index is generally extracted from a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), using the specific catchment area (D-infinity specific catchment area) and local hydraulic gradient under steady state conditions represented by local slope angle of the specific grid.

Why is the current TWI model deficient for accurate delineation of soil types?

TWI captures runoff flowing by gravity but fails to consider other factors. For example, locations with similar catchment area and slope can have significantly different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat, and the soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance. The TWI model is used to simulate soil moisture gradients and/or conditions in a watershed; however, it is limited to steady state conditions. Ecosystems do not exist in a steady state. It does not consider factors, such as different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat and soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance.To better capture this variability, SolSpec is working to develop an enhanced model.

topographic wetness index

Comparing the traditional topographic wetness index with the SolSpec enhanced topographic wetness index. You can visually see the impact that aspect and terrain plays on the moisture content in the enhanced index.

What is the benefit of SolSpec’s Triangulated Ecological Site Potential Model?

The model is highly dynamic and adaptable, capturing variability at multiple scales while adjusting input weight down network based on individual climatic or topographic driver importance. The weights of these drivers and how they impact the local or network soil moisture gradients can be adjusted based on local knowledge or new data. The resulting surface should prove useful for mapping soil (type, drainage, chemical, and physical properties), soil trafficability, and species- or community-based vegetation distributions. Ultimately, the model will help guide land management and operational decision making. It will aid in the grouping or discretizing landscapes for modeling purposes in CEAP-Grazing Lands, and for establishing ecological site and site group concepts for advancement of ecological site development efforts.

Models and tools of this type have the ability to aid in many unforeseen ways until a specialist determines a need and a use.  For instance the TESP model could prove very useful in fire potential and severity prediction. By examining existing vegetation or forest stand composition and density against the TESP model output, dry hillslopes with high fuel loads could be isolated and prioritized for vegetation treatments, reducing the threat to public health and safety in the wildland urban interface .   

So What?

Land management practices are undergoing a transformation through improved data collection and quality, particularly with drones, and increased processing power and analytics. SolSpec aims to enhance the current data offerings that inform land management plans so that decision makers can make better and more efficient decisions on managing the flora and fauna for which they are responsible.

SolSpec Transforms Risk Assessments for Civil Infrastructure Inspections with New Aerial Data Geoprocessing Platform

SolSpec Transforms Risk Assessments for Civil Infrastructure Inspections with New Aerial Data Geoprocessing Platform

New cloud-based solution improves geohazard risk-assessment and erosion control monitoring with fast, accurate, predictive risk analysis

LAS VEGAS – Oct. 29, 2019 – Today at the Commercial UAV Expo, SolSpec, Inc. announced early access to its flagship aerial analytics and data management platform, a cloud-based geoprocessing solution that transforms aerial data into actionable risk analysis and predictive modeling to empower civil and energy infrastructure owners and operators to identify and mitigate problems at every stage of the asset lifecycle. With industry-leading processing speeds, integrated artificial intelligence, and an intuitive web-based interface for creating, organizing and sharing 2D and 3D maps and models and reports, the SolSpec platform enables fast, accurate geohazard risk monitoring and mitigation.

SolSpec will showcase its software at Commercial UAV Expo Booth 601 and will deliver a Product Preview Presentations at the Exhibit Hall Theater, Wed. Oct. 30 at 1:45 pm.

“We built the SolSpec platform to unlock the unprecedented value that can be created by combining aerial data with ground-based project data,” said Tobias Kraft, founder and CEO of SolSpec. “We’re working with some of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure operators, environmental consulting firms and policymakers to advance our our risk prediction models and analyses to deliver fast, reliable solutions that help solve complex problems involving energy, civil infrastructure, environment and natural resources management. We’re excited to announce a new wave of customer onboarding to the SolSpec platform for accurate geohazard risk monitoring and mitigation.”

The SolSpec platform has been in closed beta for three months, used in conjunction with SolSpec’s recently-released ROW Integrity Management product, a programmatic approach with a suite of tools, analytics and reports currently used by dozens of contractors, surveyors, engineers and pipeline operators in the oil and gas and energy industries. To date, the platform has processed and analyzed over 130 TB of aerial data, collected from over 3 million acres, with millions more planned for the first half of next year. SolSpec is now welcoming a limited number of qualified companies to join the early access program. Interested energy, civil and surveying professionals can apply here.

Geohazards and land disturbances such as landslides, erosion and subsidence, and other mass soil movement pose a threat to critical infrastructure such as pipelines. Through a combination of SolSpec’s drone flight plans and manned-aircraft operations, data collection and advanced analytics powered by SolSpec’s massively-scalable processing engines, operators can detect and predict hazards and gather actionable insights to strategically prioritize mitigation efforts. This proactive approach enables stakeholders to address issues before they become problems, reduce or eliminate the severity of impact, reduce time to respond or repair, and reduce costs, while protecting the environment and public safety.

Key features and capabilities:

  • Supports imagery from airborne sensors including drones, manned aircraft and satellites, and processes multiple data types including photogrammetry, GIS Data and survey data.
  • The company routinely incorporates project-specific data collected by environmental consulting firms to strengthen models.
  • Using high performance cloud computing and spatial clustering the platform is massively scalable, able to process large datasets simultaneously with unprecedented speed and geodetic accuracy — processing imagery in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.
  • Intuitive, easy-to-use web interface allows users to easily create and share interactive maps, models, and reports. The ability to process multiple flights from numerous pilots on shared projects simultaneously allows for efficient, rapid workflows.
  • Secure, redundant and unlimited storage prevents loss and unauthorized access of data.
  • A full suite of industry-specific analysis tools and workflows tailored to the oil and gas industry and civil engineering industries.
  • Streamlined compliance reporting with at-a-glance summaries and regulator-approved reporting documentation, covering projects ranging from a few acres to thousands.

“With SolSpec, we eliminate much of the guesswork from identifying issues that pose the greatest risk to our projects,” said Todd Knapp, Vice President at Hanging H Companies, a pipeline construction company. “Using SolSpec, we can now confidently and accurately predict where and how geohazards, stormwater and erosion could impact assets before they occur, and assess why they occurred after the fact. This means better construction planning, safer operations, fewer incidents and shut-ins, reduced costs and greater confidence for pipeline integrity and safe operations.”

Todd Knapp and SolSpec CEO Toby Kraft will present during the Commercial UAV Expo on “Advancing Pipeline Safety with Aerial Analytics and UAVs,” Tuesday 10/29 at 2:00 pm in Pavilion 3. For more information visit

The broad commercial release of the platform is expected in the first quarter of 2020.

About SolSpec
SolSpec, Inc. is a leading provider of data analytics to the energy and civil engineering markets. SolSpec’s solution utilizes high-throughput data processing and artificial intelligence algorithms to identify and predict project-based risk for pipeline right of ways (ROW), infrastructure construction and large land development projects. Founded in 2017, SolSpec today works with some of the largest companies in the midstream oil and gas industry. Visit us online at

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec’s ROW Integrity Management solution helps detect, predict, and prevent geohazard and environmental risks that affect pipelines.

DENVER, Colorado – Oct. 21, 2019 – SolSpec, Inc., a leading provider of aerial analytics and data management software for energy and civil engineering, will present its aerial pipeline inspection and monitoring solution during the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT™ 2019, the nation’s leading conference on American shale energy, industries and jobs, Oct. 23-24 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburg, PA.

SolSpec is among only seven companies selected to present at the Technology Showcase taking place Oct. 24th from 9:00 am to 10:45 am. SolSpec Chief Operating Officer Bryan Crowe will discuss SolSpec ROW Integrity Management, an aerial mapping, modeling and inspection solution for proactively addressing landslides, stormwater runoff, vegetation encroachment, and other geohazards and environmental risks that affect pipeline right-of-ways.

“The use of aerial analytics for pipeline inspection and monitoring creates extraordinary efficiency and accuracy for Pipeline Integrity Management programs, delivering data and actionable insights that support safer and much more efficient pipeline operations,” said Bryan Crowe, COO of SolSpec. “We’re honored to be selected as one of the presenting companies in the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT and look forward to demonstrating how SolSpec is being used to prioritize how crews monitor pipeline assets to lower risk and prioritize resources while reducing operating cost and increasing safety.”

The Appalachian region remains the largest natural gas-producing region in the United States. Appalachian natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant shales of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania continued to grow, with gross withdrawals increasing from 24.2 Bcf/d in 2017 to 28.5 Bcf/d in 2018. As demand rises, ensuring efficient, safe and environmentally sound transport of natural gas through interstate pipelines and other critical infrastructure are paramount to the future of the shale industry. Identifying environmental conditions on and off the ROW that may threaten the integrity of pipeline infrastructure is crucial for expediting incident response and providing ongoing proactive issue mitigation.

SolSpec ROW Integrity Management is a data-driven environmental and geohazard risk analysis and modeling solution for analyzing known and potential threats to right-of-ways. A full-service offering, SolSpec’s team of data scientists and FAA-licensed pilots start by first collecting photogrammetry and LiDAR data within the right-of-way via manned or unmanned aircraft and create a baseline risk assessment with plug-and-play flight plans for ongoing monitoring of high-risk areas. Data is then processed via SolSpec’s secure cloud-based geoprocessing platform and proprietary analytical models based on analysis of over 1.7 million acres of landslides and ROW projects to create high-resolution maps and 3D models for comprehensively visualizing and quantifying risk to pipeline safety by measuring slip conditions, hydrology, erosion control, and slip potential. Models and analysis consider factors as specific regional population density, product type, class location, potential impact radius, and environmentally sensitive areas and produce simple, actionable easy to use reports. With this information, operators can allocate resources to the areas that may have the largest impact, mitigating risk, accelerating incident response and time to repair, reducing costs and improving public safety and environmental responsibility.

In addition to the Technology Showcase presentation, SolSpec will demonstrate its solutions at SHALE INSIGHT, exhibitor booth 334.

Hosted jointly by the Marcellus Shale Coalition™ (MSC), the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, SHALE INSIGHT™ is a leading and widely-attended policy, innovation and energy outlook-focused forum. As part of the conference, the MSC Research Collaborative will host the annual Technology Showcase on October 24, 2019 from 9:00 am – 10:45 am in which suppliers of emerging technologies introduce their innovations to the natural gas producer, midstream/pipeline, downstream and service communities. More information

About SolSpec:
SolSpec was founded in 2017 with the goal to improve environmental and public safety and to increase efficiencies for the energy industry. SolSpec’s aerial analytics and data management platform represents best-in-class data processing for all aerial imagery. Leading companies in the energy, oil and gas industries rely on SolSpec to transform aerial data into actionable insights that inform decisions to create a safer and more sustainable planet. Visit us online at