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National Academies’ Gulf Research Program awards $10.8M to address systemic risk in offshore oil and gas operations

The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is awarding $10.8 million to six new projects to develop new technologies, processes, or procedures that could result in improved understanding and management of systemic risk in offshore oil and gas operations.

The greatest risk in offshore oil and gas operations is the uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons and the threats such events pose to human health and safety, the environment, and infrastructure—as evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Comprehensive awareness of the systemic vulnerabilities that can lead to uncontrolled hydrocarbon release during drilling, production, or decommissioning activities of offshore oil and gas operations is essential to reducing existing risks and anticipating and avoiding new ones, the GRP says.

These projects address several facets of risk in offshore operations. This includes research on the problem of gas unloading within deepwater drilling risers, development of remote detection capabilities of hydrocarbon releases, design of improved cementing mixtures and better techniques for sealing wells, and development of tools to assist team decision-making in the offshore environment.

—Kelly Oskvig, program officer for the GRP’s Safer Offshore Energy Systems initiative

The six projects were selected after an external peer-review process.

Lead Organization Description Funding
Oklahoma State University Advanced Cement Characterization and Modeling to Evaluate Novel Additives to Improve Wellbore Integrity
Cement is a major material component in the construction and sealing of hydrocarbon wells. Well leakage through cement is a problem that increases maintenance costs and poses threats to surrounding communities and the environment. This project aims to improve characterization and understanding of well cement mixtures to better predict leakage potential and investigate cement additives that could reduce leakage potential and improve wellbore integrity. This information will improve modeling capability of wellbore integrity and guide designs that can be used to reduce leakage.
Louisiana State University Experiments on Multiphase Flow of Live Muds in a Full-Scale Wellbore with Distributed Sensing for Kick and Gas-in-riser Detection/Mitigation
Pressure barriers provide the primary means of preventing uncontrolled hydrocarbon releases in offshore wells. However, these barriers are only effective if they have been designed, properly operated, and maintained for the conditions of the environment in which they are employed. The project focuses on gaps in understanding about the behavior of riser gas under high temperature and pressure. Testing will be done using an existing well retrofitted with pressure and temperature sensors to produce data for validating and verifying riser gas models that inform design of pressure barriers and techniques for preventing uncontrolled hydrocarbon releases.
University of Houston Hydrocarbon Influx Behavior within a Deepwater Marine Riser: Implications for Design and Operations
Formation and management of gas within deepwater marine drilling risers poses a variety of challenges and hazards for offshore energy operations. Uncontrolled riser gas build-up and release was a major component of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. This project aims to improve understanding of riser gas formation and unloading (i.e., the processes involved in managing riser gas) through development, calibration, and implementation of modeling to describe the dynamics pertaining to riser gas under different situations and operating conditions and assessment of instrumentation that could be used to detect riser gas properties and behavior.
Louisiana State University Mitigating Risks to Hydrocarbon Release through Integrative Advanced Materials for Wellbore Plugging and Remediation
Leaky wellbores with inadequate well plugging materials can allow the release of hydrocarbons into the ocean at low rates for decades, resulting in cumulative damage to surrounding areas. The goal of this project is to advance capabilities for prevention and remediation of wellbore leakage in offshore hydrocarbon-producing wells. The project will develop and test new materials to improve or replace current materials used in the plugging and abandonment of wells and develop new methods for placing such materials.
University of Mississippi Passive Acoustic Technique for Detecting, Locating, and Characterizing Hydrocarbon Leakages
As offshore deepwater oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico continues to grow and expand, the risk of underwater oil spills resulting from both natural events and human accidents also increases. Real-time monitoring could help provide early detection of spills that is critical for minimizing impact. Existing monitoring techniques have significant limitations and cannot achieve real-time monitoring. This project launches an effort to develop a functional real-time monitoring system that uses acoustic technologies to detect, locate, and characterize undersea hydrocarbon leakages over large areas in a cost-effective manner.
Florida Maxima Corporation Unobtrusive Assessment of Macrocognition Processes in Team Decision Making
Workers in the offshore oil and gas industry operate in high-stress situations where faulty communication or decision-making can have severe consequences. This project aims to develop a tool that passively monitors and assesses verbal output in real-time communications to provide information on the cognitive states of speakers. This information could help with detection of issues that could affect decision-making processes and inform intervention and mitigation efforts to address those issues.

The National Academies' Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis.


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