The University of Houston (UH) is leading a national research center to help keep the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) safe nearly five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The research center—the Subsea Systems Institute—is one of several centers to be created through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act. The act is in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The RESTORE act requires each of the five states in the Gulf affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill to create centers to conduct research. The Subsea Systems Institute is one of two centers established in Texas.

UH has been selected to head the Subsea Systems Institute in collaboration with Rice University, the Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC), Texas Southern University, Houston Community College and Lone Star College. The consortium will research subsea engineering and other offshore energy development issues. The work is intended to reduce the risk of offshore accidents, oil spills and other deepwater disasters.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi was also selected to lead a research center focusing on sustainability, restoration and protection of the coast.

Some $4.1 million in funds has been given to the Texas centers by BP from administrative and civil penalties paid for the Deepwater Horizon spill. BP is currently facing multi-district litigation in a civic trial to resolve damages for the spilling of 3.19 million barrels of oil into the GoM in 2010. The maximum penalty could be up to $13.7 billion.

The role of the centers could expand as more financial resources are devoted to the fund.

“A center focused on prevention is the right thing to do,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, chief energy officer at UH. “A center in Houston is the right place to do it, and UH, Rice and NASA is the right team.”

Hart Energy visited with Krishnamoorti about the Institute and what lies ahead for the research team.

Hart: What is the Subsea Systems Institute and how was it formed?

Krishnamoorti: Texas and the continued economic development of the nation are directly linked to the growth of the energy industry. This has been exemplified by the shale and unconventional oil and gas development over the last decade that have revolutionized the industry and contributed considerably to the economy of Texas and the nation.

The continued growing demand for energy has required the energy industry to seek additional hydrocarbon resources. Over the next decades, the development of offshore resources—especially deep offshore—is likely to be the most significant pathway to energy resources.

The safe and productive recovery of these resources will require safe production and operation in extreme environments of temperature and pressure. For example, the industry has identified the need to develop ultradeep GoM resources at reservoir pressure of 20,000+ pounds per square inch (psi) and reservoir temperatures in excess of 350 F by 2020, and these will require the development of new technologies to handle such extreme environments.

Specifically issues of well design and completions, lightweight and ultrastrong rigs, risers and BOPs, advanced subsea production systems, new generation well intervention, flow assurance and containment are critical elements that must be addressed.

Development of safe technologies, best practices, the public policy and regulations for such operations requires an informed and capable neutral third party consisting of the university subject-matter experts. We therefore proposed the creation of a Center of Excellence titled the Subsea Systems Institute that is to be located in Houston, the capital of offshore energy technologies, and that will provide the translation, neutral third-party validation, and education and training for the advancement of the offshore resource exploitation.

UH and Rice University, in collaboration with NASA-JSC, have extensive complementary experience, expertise and resources to jointly lead such an effort. The other academic partners of the consortium include Texas Southern University, the Lone Star College System and the Houston Community College System.

The consortium has engaged and developed strong interactions with the oil and gas industry including companies and over-arching organizations that explore, drill, manufacture equipment and operate in offshore, deepwater and ultradeepwater E&P.

Hart: What are some of the goals of the Institute?

Krishnamoorti: The Subsea Systems Institute, which will serve as one of Texas’ Centers of Excellence, will develop and disseminate engineering, science and policy excellence for the identification, validation and implementation of best available and safest technologies and practices for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the ultradeep GoM and related extreme environments.

The critical outcomes will be to:

1. Provide unbiased third-party validation and establishment of best practices to build public trust in the safety and operation of offshore drilling and production in the GoM and beyond.

2. Become the repository for best practices and policies for deployment, to ensure the economically development and deployment of advantaged best-available and safest technologies for offshore energy development, and to elevate and ensure the energy industry’s safety and operational excellence in offshore applications.

3. Attract and retain talent for jobs and investment in the local, state and national economy and reinforce Houston and the state of Texas’s reputation as the Energy Capital of the World.

Hart: Will each research center of the RESTORE Act focus on a different area, or will each be unique?

Krishnamoorti: Yes, each center will work on distinctly different topics. We will work on the prevention of spills and accidents and the second center will work on the consequences of spills and accidents should they happen.

Hart: What positions the University of Houston as The Energy University?

Krishnamoorti: Our location in the heart of energy industry, along with our history of partnerships with industry and a growing practice of interdisciplinary educational programs designed to prepare students for work in the energy business, as well as our outstanding partnerships with academia and federal and state organizations. All of these combine to create the conditions that make UH The Energy University.

Contact the author, Emily Moser, at