Environment
11:44 am
Mon July 18, 2011

UT and MIT Forge Partnership To Study Risky Energy Exploration

To feed its energy demands, the United States is looking for energy in increasingly far-flung environments such as: Ultra-deep offshore oil wells, the Arctic, shale rock formations 20,000 feet underground. The risks involved are often greater, but the industry lacks a set of “best practices” for these new frontiers of energy exploration.

That's a need that researchers at the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hope to fill. Scientists at both colleges are teaming up to create some guidelines for industry. Their focus would range from guiding principles to government policies to the engineering needs required to reduce environmental impact.

The research would be independent but would be funded mostly by oil and gas companies. One of the UT researchers working to forge the partnership says that probably would not have been possible without last year’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I think without a major incident, unfortunately, we don’t tend to focus on these things,” University of Texas at Austin geoscientist Chip Groat told KUT News. He’s the director of UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy.

“I think the second trigger has been the recent activity related to exploration in the Arctic, where industry is negotiating [with the federal government] about working off-shore Alaska,” he said. “This raises those concerns from other types of risky environments.”

Their research would also examine some of the technical issues related to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking", a somewhat controversial practice used to extract oil and gas from shale rock.

At this point, UT and MIT have only an agreement in principle. Individual teams are meeting to flesh out some of the specific topic areas before they approach industry to ask for money. Groat imagines a multiyear study focused on environmental concerns.