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A Candid Interview with Zia Natural Gas

In 2016, SSP completed an Enterprise GIS implementation for Zia Natural Gas in Hobbs, New Mexico.  The project included one week onsite time for not only the “Heavy lifting”, but also instruction of two excellent technicians.  Below is an enjoyable GIS interview conducted by me (Brian Higgins) with Teresa Neal (Right) and Jennifer Tovar (Left).  I believe you will enjoy and appreciate their candor.  

Jennifer (Left) and Teresa (Right) Zia Natural Gas


Brian – “Could you please discuss your employer, Zia Natural Gas?”

Teresa – “There are two gas divisions underneath Natural Gas Processing (Zia Natural Gas and Wyoming Gas).   We have seven separate systems.  Three of the systems are grouped together (Hobbs, Jal, and Malaga) under Hobbs.  We have a system in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Northeast New Mexico (Springer, Maxwell, Cimarron, and Raton areas); Ruidoso; and the state of Wyoming (Worland and Byron areas). Three of our systems have transmission.  We have approximately 33,000 meters combined in all systems.”


Brian – “So…you have 33,000 meters in your GIS at Zia Natural Gas right?”

Teresa – “We should, but no, we don’t.  For the longest time, we only mapped commercial meters in AutoCAD.  One of our goals is to get all the system meters digitized.  We call it the Meter Project.  This is currently occurring in Ruidoso, but eventually all systems will be working on it."

Brian – “How are they digitizing the meters?”

Teresa – “We are using submeter accuracy Trimble handheld devices (GPS) to collect the meter locations."  

Brian – “How is the data supplied to the GIS team?”

Teresa – “The systems send us the raw GPS data.  We post process it with Pathfinder Office (Trimble Software).  We then bring it into the Enterprise Geodatabase.


Brian – “How did you guys get into the GIS business that led you to work you do now at Zia Natural Gas?”

Teresa – “I have a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.  I had moved from Iowa to Hobbs, and needed a job.  I applied for the clerk position with Zia Natural Gas.  My Graphic Design degree was internally noticed, and I was asked in for an interview.  Zia specifically was interested in my AutoCAD experience.  I told them that I had used it only in school.  I was then asked if I was willing to learn all the GIS software.  When I got here the GIS software was still packed and wrapped in cellophane.  Even the Trimble GPS units were still wrapped.  I stated that I was willing to give it a shot, and I was hired.  Five years later … I am still here.”

Brian – “Jennifer, what is your story?”

Jennifer – “I was born and raised in Hobbs, New Mexico.  I went to Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, where I got my bachelor’s in Anthropology with a minor in Geography.  In school, I focused on Anthropology with Archeology and Cultural Anthropology.  Associated with the Geography minor was a GIS Certificate.  I had the opportunity to pursue the GIS Certificate, but did not get it at that time.  After I graduated, I came back home and applied at Zia for the Customer Server Representative position.  I got the job.  Later, I researched online GIS Certificates that were available.  I obtained one from the University of Denver.    It was learned later that I was working for my GIS Certificate, and a position was created to work with Teresa in the GIS Department."


Brian – “Describe your GIS at Zia Natural Gas prior to our project.”

Teresa – “Before our project and before we hired a consultant, our initial data model was crude.  Due to the time required, the initial conversion from AutoCAD to the geodatabases was outsourced.  Our hired consultant recommended a migration to the standard Esri gas utility model.  They also recommended that we maintain the GIS as seven separate File Geodatabases (FGDBs).  There was a FGDB for each system.  This was due to lack of a dedicated server, the requirement of different coordinate systems, and our current ArcGIS license level.

Brian – “You mentioned that your data was maintained in separate coordinate systems.  Why did you do this?”

Teresa – “We maintained our data in three different coordinate systems to include New Mexico – East Central, New Mexico – West Central, and Wyoming – West Central (all State Plane).   This was due to the territory size and being in separate states/zones.

Brian – “Let’s talk about our project.  Why did you undertake the effort?

Teresa – “There were several things we wanted to do.  One issue with the FGDBs is that Jennifer and I could not edit the same database at the same time.  It usually worked out ok …”

Jennifer – “As long as we communicated.”

Teresa – “We worked off my hard drive, which acted as our server.  If my machine locked up for some reason, poor Jennifer would be kicked out when I restarted.  We truly wanted the Enterprise database which would allow multiple editors at the same time.  We were having trouble getting the edits from the field from the technicians of the different systems.  We were wanting to get the maps readily available for all of Natural Gas Processing.”

Teresa – "We also wanted to reduce the amount of hit lines.   Part of our overall plan submitted to National Pipeline Mapping Safety to reduce the quantity, included an improved accuracy of data. To do so, it required the data to be accurate and up to date as possible.  This included:

  • Upgrading the GIS
  • Mobile Maps
  • Getting edits back from the field"


Brian – "Why SSP?"

Teresa – “Jennifer and I realized that the tasks required were way above us, so we started looking around.”

Jennifer – “When we went to GeoConx, we talked to as many people as we could so we could find someone to help us with this project.  Teresa talked to Jessica at SSP.”

Teresa – “We received recommendations from some clients that had good things to say about you guys.  We kept a binder.  At one time, we were talking to five different companies.“

Jennifer – “There were three things that were pointing to SSP.  We presented our recommendations, and you guys were on top.”

Teresa – “Let me say that we understood what you guys were saying to us.  There were a couple of consultants that were talking so far over our heads.  We were like … I have no idea what you are talking about.”


Brian – “In your own words, describe our GIS project and what it did for Zia Natural Gas.”

Teresa – “SSP created our Enterprise geodatabase by combining all of our system FGDBs.  The database was accessed via Esri’s ArcGIS Online for mapping.  You taught us to use Collector for feature edit.  You guys did a lot of things.

Brian – “How did we handle the fact that three projection systems were used in the seven FGDBs?”

Teresa – “We reprojected everything to UTM Zone 13 because the vast majority of our system is contained within the zone.  There is a small portion of Wyoming that is outside this zone.

Brian – “Where do you get your landbase data?”

Teresa – “We purchase the parcel polygon and other layers from the individual counties.  We also utilize the basemaps supplied by ArcGIS Online

Brian – “As already stated … In our project we did a lot of stuff to include not only implementation but also training.  Teresa, there were times I thought you were going to kill me.”

Teresa – “Only a couple of times.”  LAUGHING

Brian – “Yeah….I thought it was more than that.  What was the most challenging portion of the project?”

Jennifer and Teresa – “The very beginning … The first day onsite.”

Jennifer – “It was the very technical GIS stuff that we had never been introduced … Especially connecting the SQL Server database to the GIS.  Understanding all the steps was very confusing.”

Teresa – “Even though SSP sent us the diagrams explaining the interaction between items, understanding how everything was communicating was challenging.  It was scary!”

Jennifer – “It makes more sense now after having gone through it.  Even now (six months later), I still refer to my notes of that week.”

Brian – “What was the easiest?”

Teresa – “None of it.”  LAUGHING. “The last day was fairly easy and less stressful, other than the fact you were leaving.  We wanted to chain you here.  Now it seems easy.”

Jennifer – “Oh yeah!”

Teresa – “We are doing it.  It is easy now … It wasn’t easy then.” LAUGHING

Jennifer – “You had asked what was the easiest.  Well … Seeing all the systems come together and work as a cohesive unit was definitely the most fun.

Teresa – “Everybody loves ArcGIS Online.  That makes me very happy we did this.”


Brian – “It has been six months since SSP was onsite.  What are you currently doing with your GIS?”

Jennifer – “We are using Collector offline to get edits back from the field.”

Teresa – “We are looking to hyperlink scanned construction maps.  We want users in the field to be able to click on a line and the construction map appear on the screen.”

Brian – “Anything you guys want to add?”

Teresa – “I love it all!  I am glad we did it!”

Jennifer – “Yeah.  The ease of it now is great.”

Teresa – “The only downfall is that previously with the FGDBs, I could make database changes anytime I wanted to.  With the Enterprise database, I have to either work after hours or kick everybody out.  Other than that, I love it!”

And I love you guys!  Zia Natural Gas is lucky to have both of you!