Research Center for Environmental Protection at Hydrocarbon Energy Production Frontiers (REEF)
For a variety of reasons, production of oil resources increasingly is taking place in more complicated geologies and difficult environments. Off-shore oil production in the U.S. is moving into deeper water, and onshore production increasingly relies on enhanced oil recovery techniques and practices.
Deep-water projects show great promise, but it often takes several years and large sums of money to turn a prospect into a producing asset.
As oil companies struggle to find more oil, they’re finding it difficult to replace the oil they do pump, since most easily accessible oil fields were tapped long ago, and promising new regions are proving to be technologically and politically challenging.
Many companies are also keen to restart work in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, following a halt on drilling imposed by the Obama administration after the Deepwater Horizon spill. But work in that area is moving slowly, in part because the American public is intently eying the potential for environmental damage. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
The Energy Institute Solution
The University of Texas at Austin has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to form the Research Center for Environmental Protection at Hydrocarbon Energy Production Frontiers (REEF) to examine the science, technology, and policy questions surrounding environmentally responsible hydrocarbon production in deep-water and other difficult environments.
The project, which will entail a comprehensive investigation of the many technical, environmental protection, and legal perspectives involved in such exploration, is a prime example of how leading academic institutions can work together to provide policy guidance, based on independent credible research programs, for politically sensitive issues.
REEF research and education projects will initially focus on ultra-deepwater exploration and production; the intent is to broaden the agenda to address other frontier production settings (e.g., the Arctic). In addition to the development of new technologies associated with the program’s novel research, analysis and policy agenda, the partnership will provide the industry with a substantial talent pool from which to draw, and bring together industry, policymakers, regulators, environmentalists, academics, and others to collectively address the challenges of frontier hydrocarbon production.
The REEF program will focus on three critical questions:
- How do you formulate and implement policy for producing oil in ultra deep-water frontiers?
- What are the best practices for producing oil in environmentally sensitive areas and what technology advances are needed to reduce risks?
- What can be done to minimize risks of extreme events and what remediation policies should be in place should damage to the environment occur?
The Energy Institute has developed an outline for the research to be conducted by the two teams, and is involving faculty from both institutions to construct specific research initiatives. In addition, the Institute is seeking to partner with major energy companies for sufficient funding to carry out these projects.