Offshore technology can complement natural disaster preparation systems

Offshore technology is a frontier where innovations continue to push beyond the horizon, giving access to richer resources in deeper water.

Offshore technology is a frontier where innovations continue to push beyond the horizon, giving access to richer resources in deeper water. The main mission of offshore technology is to drill in thousands of meters of water depth and produce billions of barrels of hydrocarbon. As we continue to push the envelope in this area, we remain inwardly focused on the petroleum industry's applications. It is time for us to think outside the box and examine if we can deploy offshore technology to help millions of people survive natural tragedies such as earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis. We need to join forces with meteorologists and oceanographers worldwide to help achieve this noble objective.

Our industry has worked (in a wider capacity) in the past on many occasions. Here is a case-in-point. In 2007, I had the honor as the president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers to call for an "Industry Summit" to discuss industry-wide issues. The meeting was attended by senior management from many major, national and independent operating and service companies, among a wide audience of academia and industry professionals. The summit was adjourned calling for two industry-wide councils to be formed: a Carbon Storage and Sequestration Council focused on containing carbon emission, and a Talent Council aimed at nurturing and retaining human talent in our industry. It was an example of our industry's enthusiasm when challenged to meet critical needs.

Humanity is held captive to wide-scale natural threats. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake had a moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3, which triggered a tsunami that killed approximately 230,210 people. In March, 2011, off the Pacific Coast of Japan, an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 produced a tsunami 10 m (33 ft) high along Japan's northeastern coast, causing widespread devastation, with more than 25,000 people confirmed killed and/or missing.

Scientists still do not know the full details of the physical processes involved in earthquakes and hence cannot precisely predict them. The theory of plate tectonics was a major leap forward when it was first introduced and confirmed in the 1960s and 1970s. However, despite considerable research by seismologists, reproducible predictions of earthquakes cannot be made yet. Russia and the United Kingdom will jointly deploy two satellites in 2015 to measure electromagnetic signals released from the earth's crust prior to an earthquake event. The hope is that such precursors can be used to help predict future earthquakes.

Absent of an accurate prediction of earthquakes, the bet was placed on designing tsunami warning systems that can alert humans to evacuate prior to major floods hitting shorelines. These systems use satellites along with surface and subsurface tools. Sophisticated devices are placed on the ocean floor near earthquake zones to read precisely the water pressure on the ocean floor to determine if a tsunami is present. This information then is relayed to buoys floating on the ocean surface which then send this information via satellite to tsunami-warning centers. The warning then is announced to the public via various communication means. This warning system is effective only where earthquakes epicenters are far from the shorelines. If epicenters are close to shorelines, this system does not allow enough time for evacuation. The issue, therefore, is how can human beings be more innovative to survive such natural tragedies?

Thanks to offshore technology, drilling deep holes offshore close to earthquake zones and planting geophones in them to assess passive seismology of deeper horizons is possible. It would be challengings, but it can be a reachable objective. Drilling such holes in deep oceans might also be achieved within the foreseeable future. Data from the sensors can be relayed via satellite transmission to global centers, where expert seismologists can perform advanced interpretation. This will complement existing monitoring systems.

I am confident that deploying seismic and offshore technologies to help human survival is a worthwhile challenge which our industry can answer. This can only polish the image of the petroleum industry, while answering a deeper call in our professionals to help fellow human beings.

No one would expect humans, however innovative, to be able to prevent such tragedies. Indeed, they serve as a constant reminder that humans are powerless, compared to the gigantic power of these natural forces. Nevertheless, the call is loud and clear for humans to be more innovative; aiming to precisely predict, and hopefully minimize the damage caused by these natural events. Now is the time when our industry can answer this call and work with other scientific groups to contribute towards achieving this noble global mission.

This is only an attempt to open a dialogue amongst our industry scientists and technologists to help contribute toward this noble objective. This is a golden opportunity for our industry to prove that we can be part of a wider global solution.

Dr. Abdul "Jaleel" Al Khalifa
Chief Executive Officer
Dragon Oil plc

This page reflects viewpoints on the political, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental issues that shape the future of the petroleum industry. Offshore Magazine invites you to share your thoughts. Email your Beyond the Horizon manuscript to David Paganie atdavidp@pennwell.com.

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