University of Houston Joins Gulf Project Coalition

Gov. Rick Perry Appoints Team to Help Ensure Texas is Prepared to Respond to Large-scale Oil Spill

The University of Houston is part of an expert coalition that will focus on preventing future oil spill disasters in the Gulf of Mexico. The coalition of energy and environmental scientists, policy experts, academic researchers, private sector research scientists and state officials from UH, NASA, Rice University and others, was announced Tuesday by Gov. Rick Perry, following a meeting at the University of Houston.

Called the Gulf Project, the coalition will work to ensure Texas never endures the environmental and economic disaster currently occurring in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

"To keep our status as the energy capital of the nation and preserve our environment, jobs and economy, Texas must become the world leader in developing the next generation in offshore oil exploration safety and response," Perry said. "The Gulf Project is an unprecedented collaboration of the state's top scientists, engineers and researchers, focused on protecting our residents, environment and economy, and solving the unique challenges presented by the next generation of domestic energy exploration and production."

In addition to the University of Houston, NASA and Rice, other coalition members are The University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, Southern Methodist University, the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), Texas General Land Office and the Texas Railroad Commission. Other experts and institutions of higher education may join later.

University of Houston President Renu Khator said UH's Texas Center for Superconductivity, which is enhancing offshore superconducting power by developing applications that improve the efficiency, security and stability of the electric power grid, and other research programs at the university would be involved in the Gulf Project. These include:

  • Mission Oriented Seismic Research Program, which has developed a new direct imaging method that has the capability to significantly improve drilling success rate while providing for "hazard avoidance"
  • Well Logging Group, which is dedicated to the science of recording the attributes of oil wells, often as they are being drilled
  • Global Energy Management Institute, which uses a multi-disciplinary approach to address the comprehensive needs of the energy industry, from risk and project management to accounting and systems development.
  • Composites Engineering & Applications Center, which performs research in support of the reliable and the economical cost benefits of composite materials in onshore and offshore operations
  • Center for Applied Geosciences and Energy, which fosters and facilitates the development, evaluation, application and industrial funding efforts of new geophysical, geological and geochemical technology needed for hydrocarbon exploration
  • Institute for Multi-dimensional Air Quality Studies, a diverse group of researchers from fields of geosciences, math, computer science and chemistry committed to using premier scientific tools to model the complex issues of air quality and climate change
  • Center for Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, which links energy issues with impacts on environment and natural resources 

A key challenge for the industry is the current inability to test full drilling systems to determine their safety, and to develop proven methods of responding to large-scale oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon incident. Other nations including the United Kingdom, Norway and Brazil are competing to develop a seafloor testing facility.

Each participating institution already is involved in significant oil and gas drilling research, and already have the facilities, but none is able to test a full drilling system to ensure it can safely operate under all deep sea conditions. Additionally, the Johnson Space Center is home to facilities that can test the safety and reliability of current and next-generation equipment, which could be used as research proceeds. 

Texas' energy industry continues to fuel the nation, supplying 20 percent of the nation's oil production, one-fourth of the nation's natural gas production, a quarter of the nation's refining capacity, and nearly 60 percent of the nation's chemical manufacturing. Additionally, Texas' energy industry employs 200,000 to 300,000 Texans, with $35 billion in total wages.