Pipes and Pumps? Two Industries Share Ideas

It's a collaboration that makes perfect sense, especially in Houston. Some of the brightest minds in the oil and gas industry are sharing challenges and solutions with the city's medical community. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, both face many of the same issues.

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The basics of pumping oil through a pipeline and blood through a heart are remarkably similar, with shared problems like blockages and build-up. At the first annual Pumps and Pipes symposium, researchers from both industries shared notes on how they each solve basic problems, like cleaning out a pipe or an artery. Dr. Alan Lumsden is a Professor of Surgery at Methodist DeBakey Heart Center and organized the symposium.

"It's hard to be in Houston without being exposed to the oil and gas business and I went onto that oil rig museum down in Galveston one time and then visited the natural history museum and it was very obvious the similarities were remarkable. Every now and again I get upgraded into first class flying Continental and who do you sit beside but oil and gas guys. I'd often bounced this idea off them and everyone to a man said they thought this was a great concept."    

Lumsden hopes the collaboration will stimulate ideas that can be useful for both industries.

"It's all about dialogue and I often think that the solutions to the problems I have are in somebody else's toolbox. When I have a problem that I can't understand, I talk to other people in the medical field. Fundamentally we think the same. A little bit different. I think here's an opportunity to talk to people who really deal with fundamentally the same issues but approach it from a totally different standpoint."

Bill Kline is a manager with ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and spends most of his time figuring out how to keep oil and gas pipelines flowing smoothly. He says the comparisons to the medical field are obvious.

"These are all about long, slender tubes, be it a vascular system, be it an oil or gas well or pipeline. It's very striking. We're facing very similar problems, clogged tubing, clogged pipes, clogged arteries."

Kline says the energy industry has already borrowed technology used in the medical industry to solve problems on a much larger scale.

"One of the first devices from the medical field in my career that we brought over was the CAT scan device. We look inside rocks. The whole area of imaging is one where we've already borrowed from each other. I see lots of potential for example in the questions of tools to clean out plaque deposits and things. So I see a very robust interchange not only in the area of concepts but in the area of mechanical systems and the tools we both use."

The symposium was hosted by the University of Houston. 

 

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...