Virtual information hub to put a cork in future oil spills
UH is establishing a virtual research center in collaboration with two other Texas universities in order to prevent another oil spill like BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident.
The Ocean Energy Research Institute will act as an information-sharing liaison between government, science, academic and industry organizations, as outlined by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and will be a joint project between the University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas.
A $5 million federal grant will enable these three universities to research and implement offshore drilling safety and environmental protection during their five-year contract, according to BSEE in its grant proposal.
Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer and professor of chemical and bi0molecular engineering at UH, is one of the co-principal investigators who came up with the idea, drafted the plan and compiled researchers for the OER Institute, which will be virtual. He emphasized that all three universities are entering into this project equally and will serve key functions, though their specific roles are still being defined.
“This is a huge task; not any one institute or individual could do this. Together, we’re better at being able to communicate,” Krishnamoorti said.
UT Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department Chair and professor Tad Patzek sees a bright future for the OER Institute.
“(The institute) will be a place to do cutting-edge research. The institute will not be a brick-and-mortar building — it will be a virtual institute run at the universities,” Patzek said in an interview with The Daily Texan.
The Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee of the Department of the Interior said it began brainstorming about this institute during the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as it realized the need for regular information sharing. It has since conducted discussions and eventually a recommendation that led to a grant proposal and applicant evaluation. A&M, UT and UH presented a joint proposal and won the national bid, which Patzek said was a big deal.
The oil and gas industry is continually developing new technologies, prompting this need for increased communication among field experts and government regulators. With the rate that technology is moving, Krishnamoorti said the OESAC will provide the materials and structures for a rapidly adapting industry.
The OESAC will publish quarterly reports, as outlined in its grant proposal, allowing all involved fields to keep up-to-date on energy developments and risks.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes sees this as a step toward the future of the oil and gas industry, where information sharing will continue to grow in importance.
“As we continue to expand domestic energy production, this institute will enable all segments of industry, government, academia and other stakeholders to stay informed about and engaged in changes in offshore energy development as they occur,” Hayes said in an interview with BSEE.