Public Release: 

National Academies' Gulf Research Program awards $10.8 million to address risk in offshore oil and gas operations

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today announced awards for 6 new projects totaling $10.8 million

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON - The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today announced awards for six new projects totaling $10.8 million. All six projects involve research 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.

"These projects address several facets of risk in offshore operations," said Kelly Oskvig, program officer for the GRP's Safer Offshore Energy Systems initiative. "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."

The six projects were selected after an external peer-review process. These awards are part of the portfolio of Gulf Research Program funding opportunities outlined at http://www.national-academies.org/gulf/grants. Listed in alphabetical order by project title, the projects are:

Advanced Cement Characterization and Modeling to Evaluate Novel Additives to Improve Wellbore Integrity - $671,000
Project Director: Geir Hareland (Oklahoma State University)
Project Team Affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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.

Experiments on Multiphase Flow of Live Muds in a Full-Scale Wellbore with Distributed Sensing for Kick and Gas-in-riser Detection/Mitigation - $ 4,910,000
Project Director: Wesley Williams (Louisiana State University)
Project Team Affiliations: Louisiana State University in cooperation with Texas A&M University and Weatherford
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.

Hydrocarbon Influx Behavior within a Deepwater Marine Riser: Implications for Design and Operations - $1,200,000
Project Director: Ramanan Krishnamoorti (University of Houston)
Project Team Affiliations: University of Houston in cooperation with Mulberry Well Systems LLC
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.

Mitigating Risks to Hydrocarbon Release through Integrative Advanced Materials for Wellbore Plugging and Remediation - $2,614,000
Project Director: Mileva Radonjic (Louisiana State University)
Project Team Affiliations: Louisiana State University in cooperation with SINTEF, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Texas at Austin
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.

Passive Acoustic Technique for Detecting, Locating, and Characterizing Hydrocarbon Leakages - $591,000
Project Director: Zhiqu Lu (University of Mississippi)
Project Team Affiliation: University of Mississippi
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.

Unobtrusive Assessment of Macrocognition Processes in Team Decision Making - $788,000
Project Director: James Driskell (Florida Maxima Corporation)
Project Team Affiliations: Florida Maxima Corporation in cooperation with Institute for Energy Technology and University of Central Florida
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.

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For more information, visit http://www.nas.edu/gulf/grants.

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. Visit http://www.national-academies.org/gulf to learn more.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://www.national-academies.org.

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