Province funds oil and gas research and development in harsh environments

Published on July 8, 2014

The provincial government is spending $2.3 million through the Research and Development Corp. (RDC) on research and development at Memorial University.
The money will be used to fund 17 projects tackling challenges in the oil and gas sector, particularly in harsh offshore environments. It’s a growing area of interest in the industry that poses unique difficulties.

“The work performed by these researchers will help strengthen the reputation of our province and that of Memorial University as a global centre for solutions to challenges in the oil and gas industry,” said Innovation Minister Susan Sullivan, calling the province a world leader in ocean technology.

“This work will also help strengthen partnerships between academia and industry in the oil and gas sector, and that is a very important detail. In any economy there is always the risk that academic research and business interests are addressed independently of each other.”

The projects are aimed at top researchers, and the funding will help the university purchase specialized equipment and provide better training for students.

“Through collaboration we will turn our natural resources in oil and gas into human resources in a sustainable, knowledge-based economy, and truly that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Sullivan said.

Christina Bottaro is involved in one of the projects. Her team is developing oil-spill detection technology for use in remote, harsh Arctic environments.

If the work is successful, it will allow companies to detect oil spills in near-real time.

“As human activities move into deeper oceans, remote locations, and harsh and cold environments such as the Arctic, the limitations of current sensor devices have become more obvious,” said Bottaro.

“The financial support from RDC has been vital in taking our research from lab-based proof of principle to a commercially viable remote sensing system, and in doing so has allowed us to provide a remarkable interdisciplinary environment for the training of chemistry and engineering students as well as other scientists.”

Bottaro said if all goes well, her team will have a prototype sensor ready for testing within the next two years.

Other projects include the development of a high-speed thermal imaging system, methods to aid in Arctic pipeline design, and improving the functionality of evacuation systems on ice.  

“Some of these projects will succeed, some will fail, but the most important thing is that we’re building knowledge in areas where this province should be strong and in areas where there’s a great economic potential,” said Glenn Janes, chief executive officer at RDC.

“Each of these projects in an investment in the strongest area of our economy at the moment — oil and gas.”

Janes remarked on the competitiveness of developing these technologies and said Newfoundland and Labrador could potentially provide solutions for countries around the world.

“We’re assuming, and rightly so, a leadership role,” he said.

The government funding has also leveraged $4.4 million from other funding sources for the research.