True North – Getting Our Bearings Straight When Mapping Directional Drilling Surveys


Drillinginfo’s process for creating directional drilling surveys was detailed in Directional Drilling Surveys from Paper to the Web. Since it’s such a long, winding path to take directional drilling surveys from paper reports to the interactive map application on DrillingInfo’s 2.0 website, I thought a few aspects of our process deserved a deeper dive.

DI_Website_DS Directional Drilling Surveys

To map a directional drilling survey accurately we must glean the crucial information from the header of that well survey and apply it to the measurements that trace the well path from surface location to bottom hole.

header Directional Drilling Surveys

Three Measurements: Depth, Inclination, and Azimuth

Measured Depth is usually reported (and thus processed) in feet. Inclination (angle) is in degrees, where 0° would be a completely vertical path, and 90° would be truly horizontal.

The third measurement, Azimuth, is the direction in degrees, but this value is dependent on the North Reference of the survey. This is where the header information comes into play and where we distinguish True Vs. Grid Vs. Magnetic North.

True_Magnetic_Grid_North_webcapture Directional Drilling Surveys
Image from

True Vs. Grid Vs. Magnetic North

Roughly 80% of our gathered surveys were created using True North, so this is the standard we correct to. Only about 0.1% were recorded in Magnetic North, and our research and conversations with surveyors indicate that these reports are already corrected to True North. This is helpful because Magnetic North is variable, as it changes with time.

This leaves us with 20% of well paths that are recorded using Grid North. So how do we get from Grid to True? True North is the direction to the north pole, a reference that is always … True! But Grid North begs the question: What Grid?

Coordinate Systems

Looking back at the headers will indicate the coordinate system used. For instance, the above survey report uses NAD 1927, State Plane, Texas South Central.

State_Plane_Zones_Texas_SC Directional Drilling Surveys

So in this example, we can use that State Plane zone when calculating our Grid Convergence (the difference between that zone’s Grid North and True North). But the directional drilling surveys are not reported consistently, often indicating just “State Plane”, or “NAD27”, or somehow lacking crucial information. Luckily, using GIS tools, we can spatially join the Latitude/Longitude of the survey to a map of the State Plane zones and properly assign a coordinate system.

Grid Convergence Angle & Rotation

The Grid Convergence Angle is a header detail that should tell us how to correct to True North, but is unfortunately another detail that can be incomplete, missing, or just plain wrong. So we calculate it ourselves.

It’s crucial that we know the rotation method used, one of the pieces of information that is typically missing from the survey report. If Graphic rotation is used, the angle is calculated counterclockwise, but if Geographic rotation is used, the angle is calculated clockwise. (There’s also a third method, Arithmetic, not detailed here.)

Grid_Convergence_Rotation Directional Drilling Surveys
image photoshopped/modified by jsw from link above

Let’s say the Grid Convergence is reported at +3° from True North, using Geographic rotation. In the image above, our Grid North would be the angle to the right of True (GN1), and we would adjust it to the left to reach True North.

But what if we didn’t know the rotation method, or it was reported wrong? If the survey was made using Graphic rotation at +3° (GN2) , and we corrected it assuming it was Geographic, we’d move even farther to the left and end up with an error of 6°.


So what are the results of calculating the convergence correctly? Here we have DrillingInfo’s Landtracs layer in gray, representing lease coverages. Notice how the directionals lines travel right up to the lease-line.

arc_pic Directional Drilling Surveys

Now, imagine that our bearings were off by a few degrees. We’d have surveys crossing lease boundaries and misrepresenting the true well path.

arc_pic_off Directional Drilling Surveys

We have taken thousands of survey reports from countless reporting companies and established a method to analyze these surveys. We retain and clean the information we need, throw out the information that is not sound, and calculate our own measurements when necessary.

This important step in our process ensures that an operator’s precise drilling is accurately reflected in DrillingInfo’s directional drilling surveys product.

Your Turn

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Justin Scott Winn

Justin Scott Winn is the Senior GIS Analyst at Drillinginfo. He graduated from Texas A&M University and began his GIS/Cartography career at A&M’s Forest Science department, where he helped develop a GIS for reservoirs under the Fort Worth jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. At A&M, he conducted surveys for a flood inundation study for the Lower Colorado River Authority along the Colorado River and surveyed land use and vegetation for the Texas Forest Service’s Houston Green project. As a GIS analyst in Austin, he spent several years in the environmental planning field, producing maps for the public and private sector, collecting data in the field, and analyzing data provided by engineers, ecologists, archeologists and historians to quantify and mitigate potential environmental impacts. At Drillinginfo, he has researched leasing and unitization agreements in courthouses and at the RRC, developed models for in-house and custom client applications, overseen GIS customer service requests, and managed client connections to our geodata services.