UT named partner in Ocean Energy Safety Institute

Reanna Zuniga

Over the next five years, UT will collaborate with two other Texas universities on offshore drilling research as a part of the new Ocean Energy Safety Institute.

The institute, funded with $5 million from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, will be geared toward information sharing in the hopes of advancing research. The institute will also work to better enable individuals in the oil industry to handle crisis situations in drilling and use proactive practices to prevent future disasters.

The University will work alongside Texas A&M University and the University of Houston in the initiative. Tad Patzek, chair of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, said he hopes the institute will provide a non-threatening environment for cooperation.

“[The institute] will be a place to do cutting edge research,” Patzek said. “The institute will not be a brick and mortar building — it will be a virtual institute run at the universities.”

Patzek said getting the grant money for the institute was a significant achievement for Texas.

“Texas A&M, UT and the University of Houston had a joint proposal to have the institute,” Patzek said. “It was a national competition, and Texas won, [which] is a big deal.”

Patzek said he believes Texas is the best place for the institute because the state has the largest oil industry. He said the Gulf of Mexico will be the most important place institute researchers focus their efforts, but said the researchers will also examine the Arctic Ocean. 

“We cannot afford having a spill in the Arctic. It has no means of cleaning itself up like the Gulf of Mexico can,” Patzek said. “The creation of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute is critical to  preserving our water resources and meeting our nation’s energy demands.”

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center will manage the institute.

“The three partner universities represent a unique combination of capabilities and resources needed to address the needs for the Institute,” said M. Sam Mannan, the process safety center’s director, in a statement. “We applaud [the bureau] for supporting this major undertaking of national importance, that will impact ocean energy safety for the nation and world for years to come.”

Emily Mixon, a Plan II and geography senior and director of the Campus Environmental Center, said she does not support offshore drilling, but she appreciates the goal of the institute.

“I wish we had less offshore drilling, but if it’s the energy plan of the U.S. than at least they’re trying to make it safer for the environment,” Mixon said.