Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
April 2018

Vol. 23, No.13 Week of April 01, 2018

Endowment funds UAA Arctic projects

University researchers describe investigations and technology concepts chosen for awards under endowment financed by ConocoPhillips

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Starting in fiscal year 2016, researchers in the University of Alaska Anchorage have been conducting Arctic science and engineering projects, funded through awards from an endowment fund resulting from a $15 million gift to the university made by ConocoPhillips in 2008. Each year researchers propose projects - a short list of four or five projects will then be awarded funding under the endowment. To date the awards have amounted to a total of more than $700,000.

Under the terms of the awards, projects must promote and grow Arctic science and engineering, with a significant likelihood of a major impact on communities and industry.

On March 23 researchers described progress in projects that have received awards under the program.

Coastal erosion

Tom Ravens, professor of civil engineering, overviewed progress in developing improved ways of forecasting coastal erosion at locations around the Arctic coastline. Forecasting erosion rates and future coastline profiles forms a critical component in coastal project planning and in helping communities deal with issues arising from erosion, with climate warming causing that erosion to accelerate.

Ravens said that both thermal and mechanical process are involved in erosion of the Arctic coastline. And around the North Slope there are two mechanisms involved, depending on whether a coastal bluff is fronted by a beach shoreline. The researchers are developing three different modeling techniques for making improved forecasts for the two erosion mechanisms: a process that involves machine learning algorithms; a method that uses the physics of the erosion systems; and a method that accounts for the environmental processes involved.

Results to date demonstrate major improvements in prediction accuracy relative to traditional methods involving mathematical extrapolation, Ravens said.

Pipeline corrosion

Keir Johnson described a project involving the construction and operation of apparatus for determining the expected rates of corrosion under the insulation of oil pipelines in cold climates. Under-insulation corrosion is a significant issue for the oil and gas industry, but it is difficult to obtain data for predicting when corrosion may become an issue, Johnson said.

The apparatus involves the use of various insulated pipeline sections, fitted with electrical heaters and heat controllers that can manage the temperature inside the pipe, based on thermocouples on the pipe surface. A computer system acquires and accumulates data from the apparatus and controls the heating mechanism. And the system can be controlled via the Internet. Any type of fluid can be applied to the pipe for conducting tests and collecting data.

The researchers have programmed the heaters to model a wide variety of conditions and have automated the system, so that it can be controlled from anywhere using a smart phone app. The apparatus is now nearly ready to begin testing, Johnson said.

North Slope oil plays

Jennifer Aschoff, associate professor of stratigraphy in the UAA geology department, talked about geologic research into exciting new oil plays being found in the Nanushuk and Torok formations on Alaskaís North Slope. Using publicly available seismic and well data the research team is investigating the parameters that can help locate and assess the quality of the sand bodies that reservoir oil in these plays.

The plays involve specific types of sand reservoir that occur along the shelf edges of an ancient marine basin. Using seismic data, the team has mapped ancient shelf edges under the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the North Slope.

As part of its research the team is using well data to generate synthetic seismograms, computer generated seismic profiles that can help identify the seismic characteristics of reservoir rocks in the plays.

And the research is triggering ideas for additional research projects relating to North Slope oil and gas geology, with the possibility of a joint university and industry consortium forming, Aschoff said.

Subsea pipeline vibration

Jifeng Peng from the UAA mechanical engineering department talked about the computer modeling of subsea pipeline vibration induced by vortices caused by the flow of water past a pipeline. This is an issue of great concern when designing a subsea pipeline system, to ensure the integrity of the system in a situation where there is an ocean current. The model predicts the level of stress and the frequency of pipeline vibrations for a pipeline in particular situations. The model can also predict the sound signature in the environment from the vibrations.

Other factors that the model can predict include the scale of the erosion of a pipeline that is being bombarded by sand particles in flowing water, and the amount of erosion of the seafloor under a pipeline sitting in a water current, Peng said.

Biodegradable insulation board

Joey Yang, professor of civil engineering, talked about research into biofoam made from mushroom material, as an alternative to the use of plastic materials such as Styrofoam for the manufacture of insulation board. Whereas plastics create environmental problems because they do not decompose when disposed of, the fungi-based material will decompose naturally to form fertilizer when exposed to moisture after use. The objectives of the research are to optimize the manufacture of biofoam, to improve the materialís thermal resistance, and to lower its density without compromising its stiffness and strength.

The fungi being used for the research grow very rapidly, a factor that would play into the biofoam manufacturing process. And the researchers have made some samples of biofoam that they are now testing.

The researchers have applied for a patent for the technology that they are developing, Yang said.

Snow depths and loads

Kurt Meehleis talked about a project to assess snow loads in Alaska. There have been structural failures in Alaska because of excessive loads. An objective is to develop a relationship between the measured depth of the snow and the load, Meehleis said.

Snow depth and load data can be obtained from observation stations at many locations across the world, including Alaska. However, in Anchorage, for example, snow load recording stopped in 2000. It is possible to use the snow depth data to plot a multiyear snow profile for the snow season at a specific location.

The research involved assessing the statistical relationship between measured maximum snow depths and maximum snow loads at locations where the data appeared reliable, and then verifying an equation relating depth to load, Meehleis said.

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