UH, UT And Texas A&M Collaborate In Investigating Offshore Safety Issues

The University of Houston is part of a group that will manage the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, which will provide the energy industry and regulators with reliable knowledge about critical safety issues. Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin are also collaborating.

The idea for the institute grew out of the Houston Command Center that strategized ways to cap BP's Macondo blowout in 2010, as University of Texas engineering professor Ted Patzek explains.

"There was an advisory committee to the Department of Interior which dealt with offshore safety. And that committee suggested very strongly there should be an institute that will follow up. The scope is gigantic, and we need to kind of figure out which are the problems that we'll tackle first."

Government regulators and industry scientists wanted to continue information sharing after the blowout. Ramanan Krishnamoorti is with the University of Houston.

"And in some ways, industry has been doing the job of regulating itself and sort of putting the best technologies out there. Our role is to make sure that the best practices get a neutral voice and a clear voice to be able to tell the industry as well as tell everybody concerned about its existence and how to implement it."

Krishnamoorti is the chief energy officer for UH. He says the idea is for the academic community to serve as liaison between the industry and regulators, to help guide government oversight of fast-changing technologies in the energy industry.

"To be able to bring the best and brightest minds from academia and educate the regulators about the latest activities and safest technologies to the offshore industry."

Ed: "So the idea would be to ensure that the industry and the regulators have unbiased information about safety issues."

"Absolutely. Get neutral party information on that. The real challenge is that the technology that is being deployed offshore is evolving extremely rapidly."

The safety procedures that are identified would aid the industry, but the research will also help educate future energy employees, as UT's Ted Patzek explains.

"You know, the industry needs a lot — many — highly-trained, highly-qualified people in the offshore environment. And so does the government. And so we will, again, play, I hope, (a) very positive role in providing high-quality staff for all these organizations."

The new Ocean Energy Safety Institute will start up with $5 million in seed money from the federal government.

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Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...