Technology and Safety

Advances in technology will maximize the amount of oil and natural gas that can be safely identified and acquired off the shores of North Carolina.

"Technology advances on many fronts are making the exploration, development, production, processing, and distribution of oil and natural gas cheaper, more efficient, and more protective of the environment", according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

These advances have already revolutionized the exploration for and acquisition of oil and natural gas throughout the United States, and increased the amount of resources that were originally thought possible.  In 1987, the Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) estimated that there were 9 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. By 2011, after major advances in seismic technology and drilling techniques, the agency revised its resources estimates for the area from 9 billion to 48 billion barrels.

These same technologies are increasing the potential for greater amounts of oil and natural gas resources available for development off the shores of North Carolina.  The governement estimates the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to produce 4.7 billion barrels of oil and more than 37 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.  That estimate is most likely conservative given it is based on technologies that are 30-years old.  The industry’s proven ability to advance technologies over time enable us to produce much more than originally projected.

Exploring for Oil and Natural Gas

Years ago, when engineers were first trying to identify the potential resources available to be developed in North Carolina’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), technologies such as 3D and 4D seismic imaging were not available. 

Since then, seismic imaging has revolutionized the exploration process for oil and natural gas, allowing the industry to have “eyes” underground.  This technology improves the industry’s ability to locate potential oil and natural gas reserves with greater accuracy. More precision in locating the resources can also optimize field development and the location of drilling sites and production facilities. These steps can further help to reduce a project’s environmental footprint. 

For example, computers use seismic data to create a 3D map of what lies below the surface.  This is especially helpful as engineers plan the most efficient way to produce resources from the reservoir.  By using 4D seismic technology, engineers and geologists can gauge how many wells a reservoir might need and where to place them. This “virtual drilling” can help protect the environment by reducing the number of wells needed for exploration and production. 

Acquiring Oil and Natural Gas

The industry has developed multiple types of drilling rigs and platforms to acquire oil and natural gas more efficiently and cost-effectively from water depths of just a few hundred feet up to 10,000 feet. Technological advances have allowed the industry to increase safety while also reducing the environmental footprint. State-of-the-art innovations, such as subsea technology, allow oil and natural gas companies to install fewer platforms – with less effect on the environment – than decades ago.  Twenty years ago a company might have to install 10 platforms to access multiple deepwater oil and natural gas fields. Now companies can use a single temporary rig and connect production from multiple fields into a single processing hub – all located underwater.

Safety

The goal for industry is to acquire oil and natural gas resources while maintaining safety and the environment.  The industry has stringent guidelines and standards for companies to follow, but is cognizant of the fact that policies need to be contiually monitored and updated, especially in light of major accidents such as Macondo (aka "Deepwater Horizon").  After this event, a comprehensive review of offshore safety measures and operations was launched to identify improvements in spill prevention, intervention and response capabilities.  One outcome:  in 2011, the industry formed the Center for Offshore Safety to help improve the safety of America's offshore oil and gas industry.

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