Not a boring story: the impact of sharing Gerry Wildman

Large infrastructure projects regularly over-run due to unforeseen ground-conditions, so in order to minimise the project risk, desk studies and site investigations are carried out which often include drilling boreholes. But boreholes are expensive and time consuming to drill, around £4000 for a 20m deep borehole, so consultants try and gather as much historic information about the site as possible before planning their site investigation works.

Legacy borehole records

BGS operates the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC) which collects and preserves geoscientific data and information, and makes them available to a wide range of users. Borehole records are just one type of data that the NGDC collects from third parties. In 20090 BGS scanned its collection of legacy borehole records and released them as open data on its OpenGeoscience website. The impact has been staggering. Overnight, the number of borehole records accessed went from 2,000 a month to 20,000. By the end of the first year, 300,000 records had been downloaded; a significant increase on the 17,000 from the previous 12 months. This has steadily grown over the last 7 years, and in 2017 we logged over 2.5 million downloads. This incredible increase was stimulated by BGS' commitment to pushing the borehole records out as widely as possible including via its data partner network and through the BGS iGeology smartphone app.

Benefits of data sharing

But it’s not just the number of hits that’s impressive, but the virtuous cycle that this triggered. As more people access the borehole records, more clients and contractors see the benefit that data sharing brings to the wider industry, and start to donate their own borehole records to BGS. This means more borehole data is accessible, triggering greater uptake, and so the cycle continues.

Further opening of geotechnical data

Unsurprisingly BGS has made many friends by investing in the borehole data release who are keen to collaborate to extend this principle further. We have just started a project with Atkins and Morgan Sindall to encourage a community around further opening of geotechnical data, in particular data in digital AGS format, and the creation of a simple to use and sustainable workflow. As there is no legal obligation to deposit site investigation records, BGS has to rely on good will by the depositor and importantly need the client’s permission so a lot of the work will focus on communication and education around the process. We hope this approach will release and unlock the estimated 80% of site investigation data that are still hidden within the geotechnical industry leading to a major shift in the availability of borehole data for the benefit of all.

The success of any data sharing initiative is down to those who are willing to buy into the process and commit their own data. This takes time and resources, and so we are grateful to all who have donated their information in the past and continue to do so today. By working together to achieve a common goal, we have been able to save potentially millions of pounds in unnecessary site investigation costs.

For more information, please contact


Andy Farrant said…
What a great blog - excellent, and exactly the role a geological survey organsiation should be leading on. That said, it’s one thing having borehole data but we need to interpret the data too! The engineering sector and the water industry increasingly want 3D geological data, not just old relict 2D maps. Let’s hope the engineering community get on board with this.
Holger said…
...great article Gerry - there is a lot more to come...when I first joined BGS, the only way to get a borehole record was to walk down to the records store and get someone to find a box!