The University of Houston will be part of a Texas-based operation established by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to manage the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, according to an announcement Thursday.
The five-year, $5 million agreement will be managed by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station's Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center, working with UH, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.
Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer for the University of Houston, said the goal will be to provide both industry and regulators with reliable knowledge about critical safety issues.
"Safety is going to have to be integrated into rapidly evolving technology to support ultra-deep exploration and production," he said. "Regulators have to be kept in the loop. We can bring the best academic minds to work with industry and government regulators to implement the best available and safest technology in deep water and extreme environments."
The announcement was made today in College Station, where representatives of the bureau gathered with those from the three universities.
"I look forward to working closely with our partners at the Institute on finding ways to improve safety offshore," said Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). "The Institute will develop a program of research, technical assistance and education that serves as a center of expertise in offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production technology, including frontier areas, such as high temperature/high pressure reservoirs, deep water and Arctic exploration and development."
The Institute stems from a recommendation from the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, a federal advisory group comprised of representatives from industry, federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the academic community.
It won't have regulatory authority over the offshore industry but is intended to be a source of unbiased, independent information. M. Sam Mannan, chemical engineering professor at Texas A&M and principal investigator for the project, said each of the three universities involved bring something to the institute.
"We applaud BSEE for supporting this major undertaking of national importance that will impact ocean energy safety for the nation and world for years to come," he said.
Krishnamoorti, who heads the UH energy initiative and is a co-principal investigator for the Institute, said the University of Houston's strengths include its proximity to, and relationship with, companies engaged in the offshore industry, many of whom are based in Houston, as well as several of its academic programs.
UH has the nation's only subsea engineering program, and Krishnamoorti said the University's geosciences and seismic programs also will be an advantage for the new Institute, as will its imaging center, the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, which could provide continuous monitoring for leaks or spills.
The Institute, which was first proposed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, will provide recommendations and technical assistance to BSEE related to emerging technologies and the best available and safest technologies. In addition, it will develop and maintain an equipment failure monitoring system and train federal employees to enable them to remain current on state-of-the-art technology.
The Institute will also promote collaboration among federal agencies, industry, standards organizations, academia and the National Academy of Sciences. Information on issues related to offshore research and best practices will be shared with industry, government and the public through Institute-held forums.