Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
April 2019

Vol. 24, No.16 Week of April 21, 2019

UAA research addresses energy issues

Annual presentations by university scientists cover a wide spectrum of topics relating to energy industry and energy use in Alaska

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

In an annual event on March 22 researchers from the University of Alaska Anchorage described scientific research projects that have been awarded funding from a ConocoPhillips endowment. Annually since 2016 researchers have proposed projects, with four or five of these projects being awarded funding each year.

Five projects were described during this year’s presentation, with topics ranging from the monitoring of North Slope permafrost subsidence to developing a system to help plan the use of renewable energy by rural Alaska communities.

Permafrost subsidence

Todd Burns and Kannon Lee described a project which is using synthetic aperture radar data to measure the subsidence of permafrost at North Slope oil field well pads. The researchers are then using soil analysis and thermal modeling to predict future trends for subsidence and the thawing of the ground.

The SAR data, obtained from satellite surveying conducted in 2017 and 2018, indicates surface subsidence of a few centimeters during the course of the summer at most sites. Subsidence data for four specific wellheads proved consistent with survey data obtained by ConocoPhillips.

The researchers used data from the soil analysis to model the vertical subsurface profile to a 25-meter depth at a drill site. They then used data from 30 climate models and the trend of historic climate data to project potential air temperatures through into the next century. By modeling the impact of future air temperatures on the subsurface temperatures it was possible to develop a range of scenarios for future permafrost thaw and subsidence. All climate models indicated thaw penetration to a depth of about 12 feet, the researchers found.

Corrosion monitoring

In another project Aaron Dotson talked about the development of visual and infrared imaging techniques, coupled with machine learning, for the rapid identification of areas of steel infrastructure impacted by corrosion. The idea is to quickly locate situations where further corrosion investigation and remediation may be required. Images of the infrastructure are obtained using conventional cameras, infrared cameras and a 3-D imaging device, with drones being used for the rapid capture of imagery from difficult to access locations. By merging images captured using the three techniques, it is possible to obtain greater insights into the corrosion situation than can be obtained from each technique individually.

In-situ burning of offshore oil spill

Patrick Tomco talked about research into the potential results of dealing with an offshore oil spill using chemical herding agents and in-situ burning. Experiments involve simulating oil spills in a laboratory vessel, measuring the natural degradation of the oil and the impact of burning the oil, with and without chemical herders. A herder causes an oil slick to contract into a relatively small area, thus potentially making the burning of the oil more effective.

The researchers use a variety of techniques including mass spectrometry to analyze the materials that are input to the tests and that result from the experiments. Ultimately, the idea is to determine the relative effectiveness of different response techniques and the impact of each technique on microbes found naturally in the seawater.

Modeling a village microgrid

Ahmed AbuHussein talked about a project that uses data from the electrical grid in the village of Igiugig, near the southwestern end of Lake Iliamna, to model the integration of renewable power generators into a microgrid of this nature. The research is enabling the development of a modeling tool that can assess the stability and economics of integrating generators into a village grid. The idea is that people will be able to test the potential impact of a renewable energy system on a microgrid, before implementing the system. In the case of the Iguigig system, the researchers validated their model by matching the model results with measured data from the grid.

Structural history of North Slope

Triffon Tatarin and Shuvajit Bhattacharya talked about research into the tectonic history of the North Slope using seismic data that are available to the public through the state tax credit program. The purpose is to gain insights into the structural evolution of northern Alaska and how this evolution impacts the North Slope petroleum system. The research particularly uses the Storms 3-D survey, shot by ConocoPhillips to the south of the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk River units in 2005.

As one outcome of the study the researchers have identified three different fault sets, each with characteristic orientations, Tatarin explained. And different fault sets have different seismic attributes. Bhattacharya said that, by applying “deep learning” computer algorithms to the seismic data, it is possible to use an automated process to identify faults in a particular area, thus saving significant amounts of time in interpreting the seismic data. The results turned out to be more than 90 percent accurate, he said.

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