Advancing energy research

UT opens energy labs with help from Baker Hughes

Mikaila Adams  

Three new state-of-the-art laboratories set to advance energy research and change the way students learn about oil and gas drilling have opened at the University of Texas at Austin, thanks to a $1.7 million gift from oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

On Tuesday, January 21, The University of Texas at Austin Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering held an event to celebrate the opening of the three new labs, consisting of the Real-time Operations Center, the Drilling Automation Lab, and the Zonal Isolation Lab. Mario Ruscev, Baker Hughes chief technology officer, as well as Bill Powers, President of the University of Texas at Austin and Cockrell School of Engineering Interim Dean Sharon Wood were all on hand.

Including the lab projects, Baker Hughes has invested close to $3 million with the university through various training, education, and research projects. Working closely with the university to help advance the training and teaching of the next generation of engineers, Baker Hughes is working to ensure teachings align with the challenges and needs of the industry. Currently, the company has several active collaborations including three lab projects looking at drilling fluid automation, cementing sensors, and ROP enhancement.

Baker Hughes presents a check to The University of Texas at Austin for additional research at three new Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering labs.

Baker Hughes presents a check to The University of Texas at Austin for additional research at three new Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering labs.

Photos courtesy of UT and Baker Hughes

The labs are the vision of Eric van Oort, an energy industry veteran who was recruited by The University of Texas at Austin in 2012 to help redesign the school's drilling program. By creating a place where faculty and students across related disciplines could address onshore and offshore drilling challenges, van Oort believes the process can be made safer and more environmentally sound.

"We have a vested interest in training and teaching the next generation of engineers," said van Oort in a written statement by The Cockrell School of Engineering PGE Department. "These labs will be incubators for future technologies and allow for further development of important drilling and completions research and solutions."

Bill Powers, President of The University of Texas at Austin speaks at the opening event. Bill Powers, President of The University of Texas at Austin speaks at the opening event.

The Realtime Operations Center has the capability to process 24 hour data from operational offshore or onshore wells. "The goal is to have undergraduate students looking at and analyzing data, seeking out meaningful patterns, to help industry become safer," van Oort continued. "Graduate students will supervise them and also be conducting sophisticated research and development on this particular data."

Helping the industry take advantage of automated technologies that are crucial to the safe and efficient use of energy resources is one goal of the labs.

"The oil and gas industry has been lagging behind other industries in terms of adopting automation, mechanization and robotization," he said. "If you look at rigs in the field, you will still see people working in highexposure areas such as the drill floor. We need to be better at taking people out of harm's way, making operations safer and more efficient at the same time."

The Drilling Automation Lab contains a $2.7 million state-of-the-art rig simulator donated by oilfield equipment and services provider NOV. The simulator, consisting of two cybernetic chairs and a computer representation of an offshore well projected onto a screen, allows engineering students a feel for what it's like to control a drilling rig with a piece of equipment usually reserved for drill operators in the field.

The Zonal Isolation Lab, also known as the cement lab, houses researchers testing new methods and materials for improving onshore and offshore drilling.

"Creating good and lasting bonds on shale formations or in very deep wells is a very big challenge for the oil and gas industry," van Oort continued.

With the generous donations by Baker Hughes and NOV, the three new labs at The University of Texas at Austin will help train future engineers in a manner that will make the industry safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly.

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