Title3 Texas universities to start safety institute for offshore drilling
BodyWASHINGTON — Three Texas universities will launch a new safety institute designed to help offshore drilling regulators keep pace with rapidly evolving technology for extracting oil and gas from the sea floor, Interior Department officials announced Thursday. The University of Houston, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas will start the Ocean Energy Safety Institute using $5 million in seed money from the federal government. Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station's Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center in College Station will manage the institute over five years, under its contract with the government. The institute was the brainchild of government regulators and industry scientists who huddled in a Houston command center strategizing ways to rein in BP's runaway Macondo well after it blew out in 2010 — and who wanted to keep that information sharing going long after the disaster was over. The resulting Texas-based program is expected to help guide the government's oversight as the oil industry rushes to tap the Arctic frontier, deep-water terrain far from the coastline and challenging high-pressure reservoirs. The new center “will be a very good place for us to interact with industry and academia on emerging technologies,” said Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement that oversees offshore drilling. “It will really focus many of our R&D interests.” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer for the University of Houston, said the institute will ensure both industry and regulators have reliable, unbiased information about critical safety issues. It will be a “unique, collaborative relationship,” Krishnamoorti said. “We will end up being the liaison between industry and the regulators.” M. Sam Mannan, a chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M, noted the breadth of the institute, describing it as a “major undertaking of national importance that will impact (offshore) safety for years to come.” While a major goal of the center is coordinating research and synthesizing data on offshore drilling equipment and techniques, it also will train safety bureau employees to help ensure they're current on state-of-the-art technology. It also will be tasked with developing an international equipment failure reporting system and a database of critical device failures tied to well control, which could help pinpoint patterns and reliability problems. The center won't focus exclusively on drilling or production, and research will include work on environmental protection, blowout containment and oil spill response. One of the institute's major functions will be helping the safety bureau identify the “best available and safest technologies” for operating offshore — a requirement is embedded in federal law but left to regulators to specifically define. Environmentalists and some investigators who probed the Deepwater Horizon disaster said the government has shirked this responsibility. In a report last week, the National Academy of Sciences said the center is critical to helping the government reach outside its ranks for insight on the best technology for safeguarding coastal oil activities but insisted it will need more money and a much bigger size to “address fully the challenges posed offshore.” The National Academy of Sciences recommended the new institute be broadened to a federally funded research and development center that could receive funding over a longer time frame — something Salerno said he's exploring. With its Gulf Coast location, the center will be able to tap into some of the oil and gas industry's brightest minds, the academy said. That follows similar models, such as NASA's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Show on FrontpageTrue