An Open Data Concession Map of the World – Part I, Sub-Saharan Africa

For the past year, OpenOil has collected oil concession data from all continents as a contribution to what we believe holds the potential to revolutionise natural resource management across the globe: an open data framework around the extractive industries. Today, we are pleased to announce its next evolution – the first open oil concession map of the world – starting with Sub-Saharan Africa.

Today’s release covers 33 Sub-Saharan countries and includes the shapes of over 1,750 oil blocks, as well as references to 200 corporations that were given the licenses for these blocks, and finally – as highlighted in the map – links to more than 120 of these full-text contracts. All of the data comes from concession maps, such as governments frequently publish them to provide basic information about oil rights in particular areas, but which so far have mostly remained hidden on ministry or other websites, five clicks away from being accessible… and analogue… All we did was to use GIS and digital tracing methodologies to make these maps available as open data, and by that, to give our concession database a graphical interface.

So why do we think this is important? Well… for a simple reason: because such open data maps make information about the extraction of natural resources tangible. 800 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa can now see – at a click – if they live within the bounds of an oil exploration or production area, and if so, who owns the rights to operate. This will become four billion people in the various phases of extension of the map between now and the end of 2015. Of course there are many qualifications to this statement, such as level of internet access, etc, and it’s only the starting point… but I will get back to that later.

First, let me review what our previous iterations of our concession database offered, and what they didn’t. When we started to collect concession data, we made the data accessible in our contract repository as a simple index. This, we believe, provides context to the norm of contract transparency: our estimate of roughly 2,000 assigned oil blocks across all of Africa led us to the realisation that less than ten percent of Africa’s oil contracts are in public domain. In return, we suggested, it is now possible to move away from a “n+1” to a “1-n” approach to this norm: why not measure what percentage of the total has been released, rather than how many contracts were published this year?

The second version of our concession database came in the form of our oil rights API. The idea for it was twofold: rather than having to deal with vast lists, such as published with our first iteration (after all we have collected data on over 20,000 oil blocks from 70 countries in the meantime), the API allows you to frame smarter queries of the data with questions like “What concession blocks exist in Uganda”, or “Who holds exploration licenses in Brazil”. Also, forward looking, API’s offer automatic updates. Imagine, for example, you want to be automatically informed three months before any designated exploration period is coming to an end in Brazil, and the company either has to declare commerciality or relinquish the field? Or that you would like to know when any of BP’s 1,200 affiliate companies farm into or out of operations anywhere in the world?

All of these questions, of course, are very technical and are only really relevant to specialists. Also, we still only have the level of detail in the data for a few rather “rich information” countries, that would allow to answer such questions in the first place. As we have stressed in our previous releases, so we stress also today that this is only a start. Yet, there is much more information available in the public domain already, as we displayed with our Open Data Tour of Tanzania. And once you put these datasets together, a lot of things become possible, ranging from Public Interest Financial Modeling of oil contracts to addressing the local impact of a particular mining site. All of this, we hope, will contribute to a ‘real’ and editorially independent costs and benefits analysis of the extractive industries, but it needs to be build piece by piece and concessions provide a framework for it.

This brings me back to what it is, that we hope to offer today, besides the framework to gather in further data: we believe that such a graphical interface, and maps in particular, make information about the extractives accessible. Imagine you can type in your address and see which companies holds the rights to extract resources in your immediate neighbourhood? It is possible… The extraction of natural resources is something that directly touches the lives of many people in many countries, and it is through maps – we think – that we or anybody else can best provide access to surrounding information.

This is why we are happy today to publish the data for the concession maps for 34 of these countries in the form of shapefiles. In a few weeks, we hope to expand this to the whole MENA region, so that in a couple of months we have what will be an interactive and truly global concession map for the 70-80 countries across the globe, for which such oil block maps exist in public domain. So do we plan to add more substance to the data itself, such as in our Tanzania pilot, just like we will further develop the functionality of our API to make the data more useful to specialists. Each of our previous releases offer their advantages, but it is through interactive maps that we hope to be able to reach a broader constituency. Who are, after all, the legal owners of sub-soil resources in every country in the world bar one?