NRC helps the oil and gas industry chart new frontiers in the Beaufort Sea
Industry-wide database enables safe and responsible offshore and marine operations
December 02, 2013— Beaufort Sea
The Beaufort Sea represents an important new frontier for many global oil and gas giants. Located north of the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Alaska, this sea is characterized by the harsh Arctic climate. It is covered in thick sea ice for much of the year. And according to new geological studies, the sedimentary rock below its seabed contains significant petroleum and natural gas reserves.
This potential resource is prompting leading oil and gas companies such as Imperial Oil and BP to secure drilling licenses for the Beaufort Sea in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a costly endeavor in the Arctic — and one that is comprised of many challenges. The cost of establishing a single well could exceed $500 millionFootnote 1.
To maximize their investment, and ensure safe and responsible operations, these firms require information that enables them to make informed decisions about their deep exploration and drilling. This is the objective of a collaborative research project led the National Research Council Canada (NRC) and the oil and gas industry. The goal: to develop a comprehensive and user-friendly database that provides companies with relevant data about the Beaufort Sea to support offshore and marine planning, engineering decisions and operations. This includes information on sea currents; ice characteristics and strength; the movement of ice floes; and seismic activity in the seabed.
Initiated in 2010, this project leverages the resources and expertise of NRC; oil and gas industry leaders such as BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Imperial Oil and Statoil; and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada on behalf of the National Energy Board as a regulator. "We have established and populated a database that enables the storage, query and visualization of environmental information on the Beaufort Sea," said Ms. Ivana Kubat, NRC Project Engineer. "This repository is already providing oil and gas companies with greater insight into the physical conditions of the Beaufort Sea."
According to Bill Maddock, Arctic Engineering and Technology Coordinator for BP, the database directly supports safe and efficient oil and gas operations in the Beaufort Sea. "Although previous industry and academic researchers have gathered a vast amount of environmental data in this region, it is broadly distributed. This collaborative project with NRC allows us to gather, consolidate and process relevant Arctic information in a centralized database that is accessible to all industry partners. This industry-wide repository ensures that we are all working from a consistent and accurate data source to plan and implement safe and responsible development projects in this region."
Neil Darlow, Environmental Lead for Imperial Oil’s Beaufort Sea Exploration Joint Venture, underscores the value of this data. "This database increases our productivity and helps us to make sound engineering decisions using the best information available. For example, data on ice conditions helps us to determine the appropriate vessels for a job and the safest routes to a job site; the optimal approach and schedule for offshore drilling; the safest equipment designs and emergency evacuation systems. This helps us to perform safe and responsible offshore and marine operations."
He adds: "We have collaborated with NRC for more than three decades on Arctic R&D. This project would not be possible without NRC. These scientists bring a deep knowledge of the Arctic to all partners, and facilitate the R&D collaboration required to achieve our common objectives."
NRC and its partners continue to integrate new environmental datasets and evolve the functionality of the database to maximize its value to industry and regulators.
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