What is WITSML?

January 9, 2017

It’s the 1970’s and it’s a boom time for oil and gas – all the major players of today and yesterday operate rigs throughout the country’s oil fields. The only thing the rigs produce in more volume than resources? Data.

The problem is that it’s the 1970s, and there’s no common language for that data. Copious amounts of it simply get lost in transit from the field to remote facilities – data that could be used to evaluate rig performance, analyze formations and more.

Instead of a common language that would ensure all parts of the system work together, everyone’s spending a fortune on format-matching, transferring from one software system to another, custom modifying and translating all the datasets back and forth. Many companies and vendors have their own proprietary languages for encoding and decoding rig data.

Imagine sitting at a table and conversing with three other people in totally different languages, and you’ll have some appreciation of why proprietary systems caused so much havoc and frustrations back in the day.

Realizing that banding together to solve the data disconnect would benefit everyone, in the 1980s, the major players in oil and gas formed a steering committee to create the world’s first oilfield data standard, Wellsite Information Transfer Specification.

For more than two decades, WITS formed the bedrock of data transfer for the oil and gas industry. Then, in the early 2000s, industry leaders developed the next stage of international data exchange standard language – Wellsite Information Transfer Standard Markup Language, or WITSML.


Developing WITSML


WITSML is to WITS like French is to Latin – an evolution to match the more complex communication needs of today’s rigs and software systems.

The development of WITS solved a crucial issue often hindering sector growth – the need for standardized data formats, or markup languages for data.

Just as the medical industry has its International Classification of Diseases to standardize coding used in every doctor’s office, hospital and medical facility in the country, so too did the rise of standard markup languages in oil and gas enable the easy transfer of data across different types of industry facilities.

The building of WITSML out of WITS paralleled the growth of the Internet and the need for data that’s simultaneously simpler and more secure. In particular, WITSML is built on the extensible markup language, or XML, a language designed to be simple and easily readable for humans and machines.

Think of the early days of the Internet, where we fired up dial-up modems and opened browsers like Netscape. Compare that with the complexity of everything we can do while online now – a similar gap exists between what WITS allowed companies to do and what WITSML enables.

To build and refine the language, a special interest group facilitated by nonprofit energy industry consortium Energistics created XML standards for use across oil and gas companies, service and drilling companies, vendors and even regulatory agencies. The standards cover data exchange for everything from drilling to completions.

“A global, industry-wide set of freely available and vendor-neutral technical data exchange standards for key data along the entire E&P value chain can solve these data incompatibility problems.” – Energistics.com

WITSML in the Field


Where WITS was a binary file transfer format, web-based, platform-independent XML can exist anywhere the Internet lives. This has helped companies create networks of digital oilfields.

Today, as the major players – including Landmark/Halliburton, Paradigm, Schlumberger and more – have adopted WITSML, more and more companies in the industry are adding WITSML capabilities to their repertoire.

In the field, the use of WITSML-compatible applications enables everything from operator and vendor drilling reports to near real-time completion data to be sent swiftly, accurately and securely. Effectively transferring detailed petrotechnical data across systems means that operators and vendors can collaborate across disciplines and geography, and ultimately design, drill, and pump more productive jobs. 

“Overall, when we standardize, it makes the industry stronger and more efficient. Adopting WITSML has reduced a lot of fractionation that previously existed.” – Greg Lee Chee, Programs Team Lead Worldwide Drilling and Completions, Murphy Oil

Steadily increasing adoption of WITSML has improved data quality across the industry, as well as lowered operational costs that used to go into all that encoding and decoding in proprietary languages. As more service companies also develop smart technologies and drilling collaboration and data-analysis tools, the standard use of WITSML will allow for wider adoption of these technologies as well.


The Future of Data Transfer in the Oil and Gas Industry


Similar to other software and markup languages, WITSML continues to be updated and modernized. Most recently, Energistics members developed a companion application programming interface (API) for the language, and new versions continue to be developed and released on a semi-regular schedule. The release of the API enables developers to create apps built on WITSML. App development on a standard framework helps each part of the energy industry to solve specific problems or increase efficiencies within their own workflows, while still being able to communicate with other applications.

Standard markup languages today need to be living, fluid languages to keep pace with the rate of technological advancement. Growing adoption of WITSML allows companies to build solutions for the future of oil and gas. As margins narrow and the structure of the oil and gas industry morphs forward, the more efficient a company can be at every stage of speculating, drilling, completion, analysis and recompletion, the greater their edge.



What is WITSML? United Oil & Gas Consulting

WITSML Standards Energistics Energy Standards

Data Exchange and Open Standards WITSML.net

WITSML emerging as international industry standard Oil and Gas Journal