A new oil well design, built and operated with robots from Seabed Rig and controlled with robotic software from Energrid Technologies, will be on display in August as an adjunct to the ONS exhibit in Norway. The new robotic well is expected to do away with oil well dangers from a human and an environmental perspective. However, oil workers might wonder if the new technology will eliminate their jobs, and oil technology skeptics might wonder if such technology can live up to a claim of “environmentally safe”.
Regardless, the prototype for the underwater well is in place at Forus Teknologipark in Norway. From now until June, Seabed and Energrid will work on perfecting the operation of the rig. In August, at the ONS exhibit in Stavanger, Norway, potential customers and partners will be invited to visit the rig.
Because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there are plenty of reasons to be more skeptical than every about sophisticated technology when it comes to environmental protection. And that skepticism can run even deeper when one realizes that these wells are targeted for locations further underneath the ocean and in under the arctic ice.
However, the technology does have its credentials. According to Neil Tardella, COO of Energrid, “The software was originally developed for NASA and the National Science Foundation for controlling complex robotic systems.” Additionally, the robotic hand that is used, which has the ability to lift 3,000 kilograms, has been developed in part with Stanford University work related to the development of underacutated hand technology.
The trend towards the use of technology that was developed for space is one that the ONS exhibit will also emphasize in August along with the traditional heavy machinery needed for the offshore oil and gas industry. The concern about robotic space technology, when used under the water, is weight. Environments such as the moon and outer space are weightless. On the other hand, the environment under the sea is the complete opposite. There, tens of thousand of pounds of water not only put untold pressure on robotic devices, but uncharted and changing underwater currents may find it an easy job to push underwater oil rigs around.
Examining the animations of the new technology on Seabed’s web site will give oil drilling novices some insight into how the whole automated underwater rig process works. However, the animations miss some important engineering simulations. Skeptical government regulators might want to see the rig under simulated disaster conditions such as fast moving currents, underwater explosions, and earthquakes.
Even if the technology can’t provide all the environmental safety needed, the new technology may very well increase the possibility of more offshore oil drilling. And one reason is the elimination of oil rigs on the ocean’s surface, which many consider unsightly. Another reason is that most of the world’s remaining oil wealth is far beneath the sea and in the icy cold regions of the arctic. Just where the technology has been designed to go.
One potential environmental plus that Seabed’s animations reveal is that the new technology will not use the traditional mile long underwater pipes. Instead the oil will be pumped up from the oil rig through hoses. The provider of the pumps for the Avatar-like robotic oil wells will be Optipump AS, also based in Norway. Norway not only has the largest amount of oil reserves in Western Europe, but is also one of the world leaders in adopting renewable energy technology.