Improving oilfield safety – what3words

Remote locations need accurate mapping. When an accident happens in the oilfield, knowing where that accident has occurred is critical. It is standard practice to carry a piece of GPS enabled equipment. These coordinates can be read back to a base location and support/help can be dispatched. There are a variety of projections, coordinate systems and strings of numbers with decimal places. There is a chance of error.

“what3words is a universal addressing system based on a 3m x 3m global grid. Each of the 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares in the world has been pre-allocated a fixed & unique 3 word address.”

Founded in 2013, what3words brings a fresh view to the world of addressing and location. A 3m x 3m grid is never going to be accurate enough for the layout of seismic source and receiver points, and it will not be accurate enough for pipeline placement. However, it does offer a good enough locator device (three words) to be able to quickly locate a place, both onshore and offshore.

Location, Location, Location


Let’s look at the following location, using both traditional methods of long/lat coordinates and also using what3words:

Lat 51.507777, Long -0.127890 (try Google Earth perhaps)

locals.items.ticket (try at

This is Nelson’s Column in London (or close enough). If you cannot copy and paste the above coordinates or text, what method is easiest to rapidly get the location? What produces the least errors? If I get a digit wrong in one of the coordinates I might not be too far out (but I might be a long way out!)

.000001 – I am 4 inches out

.00001 – 3.6 feet out

.0001 – 36 feet out

.001 – 360 feet out

.01 – 3,600 feet out (0.7 miles)

.1 – 36,000 feet out (6.9 miles)

Even more detail here

If I am a letter out, say local.items.ticket (locals was changed to local) I am so far out that I instantly know I am wrong. Is this trivial point? Perhaps. But in the oilfield 0.7 miles out is likely to still be within the realms of possible locations for an accident (for example a vehicle has rolled over on a steep dirt track). Even 6.9 miles out might be missed. Using what3words is a great check; get a letter wrong and you are likely to be far enough away for the error to instantly be caught.

Application to the oilfield


The oilspill response project details recommendations and best practice to using remote sensing data. Page 22 contains an exercise scenario. It contains sets of coordinates (the centre, the extents). If the what3words three-word string was added, to complement this, with a buffer (covering the spill extents) anyone within the organisation would be able to confidentially find the location of the spill. Will suppliers of imagery accept a three-word string with a buffer? Almost certainly, yes.

If an accident occurs where there are injuries or casualties, these tend to be high stress and fast moving environments. In these conditions, mistakes can be the difference between life and death. Getting the location wrong could be catastrophic. It is in everyone’s interest to respond with urgency and clarity.


(Could an accident occur here?)

I am not suggesting replacing Global Positioning Systems with 3 words. I think this new approach could complement and act as another check. Location can be easily communicated with 3 words; a 3m x 3m location can be accurately described. For high accuracy and high precision GPS coordinates are still the best. what3words will work offline, so having the area you are working in (with a suitable buffer) already downloaded will be another tool in obtaining location. It might be the difference between support arriving on the scene in 5 minutes or 15 minutes.

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