National Academies Press: OpenBook

The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision (2014)

Chapter: 2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES

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Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
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Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
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In keeping with the spirit of the agreements negotiated by the Department of Justice, community input, and the deliberations of the Advisory Group, the Program will pursue the following mission:

Mission

Over its 30-year duration, the Gulf Research Program will work to enhance oil system safety and the protection of human health and the environment in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas by seeking to improve understanding of the region’s interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems and fostering application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems, and the Nation.

The Program’s most valuable contributions are likely to come at the intersections of its areas of responsibility: oil system safety, human health, environmental resources. Given this context, the Program will address three connected goals:

GOAL 1    Foster innovative improvements to safety technologies, safety culture, and environmental protection systems associated with offshore oil and gas development.

GOAL 2    Improve understanding of the connections between human health and the environment to support the development of healthy and resilient Gulf communities.

GOAL 3    Advance understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system with complex, interconnecting human and environmental systems, functions, and processes to inform the protection and restoration of ecosystem services.

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
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Enhance Oil System Safety

GOAL 1    Foster innovative improvements to safety technologies, safety culture, and environmental protection systems associated with offshore oil and gas development.

The oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico region and elsewhere in the United States is a complex, trillion-dollar industry operating in a changing technological and regulatory environment. Major offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shifting into ultra-deep waters (deeper than 5,000 feet) and more hostile environments. Coupled with technological advancements in locating hydrocarbons and accessing them, these resources create increased production capabilities but greater risks. At the same time, infrastructure supporting production in areas developed earlier, as well as onshore transportation, is aging, which also creates new risks. These risks and their associated consequences became apparent during the DWH oil spill and led to significant changes in government oversight and to an increased focus by industry on improving safety.

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

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In today’s increasingly complex offshore oil and gas exploration and development environment, stakeholders recognize that safety risks must be assessed and managed from a systemic perspective that encompasses the human, organizational, and technological factors that affect safety during exploration, production, and the transportation of hydrocarbons from oil fields to coastal regions. Innovation in science and engineering, and continuing training for operators, drilling contractors, and service providers, will be necessary to manage risks safely in these high-pressure, high-temperature, frontier areas.

The Program’s contributions to this effort are likely to involve partnerships with industry, relevant federal agencies, educational institutions, and existing safety-oriented centers and institutes. The Program will emphasize systemic approaches, the prevention of harm and reduction of risk, organizational science behind safety, protection of worker health, and the connectivity and interdependence of the industry, people, and communities.

Other Program activities could address foundational research supporting the evolution of technology for the increasing challenges of new oil production environments; issues at the human–technology interface such as decision-making systems, monitoring, responses to

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

THE EVOLUTION OF OFFSHORE DRILLING AND CHALLENGES AHEAD

The first freestanding offshore oil platform, built in 1938, stood barely offshore in 14 feet of water, and few at the time could have imagined ever drilling in more than 10,000 feet of water as is done now. But technological change and the value of the resource allowed extraction to move deeper and farther offshore.

What challenges lie ahead? Now that much of the more readily accessible oil has been found, new offshore exploration and production activities increasingly take place in frontier areas such as the Arctic and the ultra-deepwater Gulf of Mexico. The challenges of operating in these harsh environments are significant. In the Arctic, extreme weather conditions, ice, and remote locations impose high project costs and spill response challenges. In the ultra-deepwater Gulf, high-pressure, high-temperature conditions require sophisticated engineering and strong management strategies to coordinate among the many companies involved in drilling a well. Flow rates for an ultra-deepwater well can be extremely high, illustrating both the rewards of producing from these reservoirs and the potential risks if another catastrophic spill were to occur. The region also faces the challenges associated with the aging of the older, closer-to-shore infrastructure.

image

1938—First freestanding offshore platform

(Creole platform, 14 feet of water)

1947—First offshore platform “out of sight of land”

(Kermac 16, 15 feet of water)

1954—First mobile offshore drilling unit

(Mr. Charlie, 30 feet of water)

1954—Development of jack-up rigs

(Mr. Gus, 100 feet of water)

1956—Development of submersibles

(Kermac 46, 80 feet of water)

1962—First semi-submersible drilling vessel

(Blue Water 1, 300 feet of water)

1972—First 3-dimensional seismic survey

1979—First true deepwater platform

(Shell’s Cognac platform, 1,025 feet of water)

1970s-1980s—Beginning of the deepwater play

(Discoverer Seven Seas sets drilling records)

1995—Deepwater becomes truly viable

(Shell’s Auger platform, 2,860 feet of water)

2005—Push into deepwater

(BP’s Thunder Horse, 6,300 feet of water)

2010—First production from the Lower Tertiary

(Shell’s Perdido Spar, 8,000+ feet of water)

2013—World record set for water depth

(Transocean’s Dhirubhai Deepwater KG1, 10,411 feet of water)

SOURCE: Adapted from Priest (2013).

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

problems, and critical decisions at critical junctions; and approaches to reduce the impacts of spills and blowouts using improved environmental monitoring of offshore conditions and natural resources around platforms, pipelines, and shipping lanes. Program activities could contribute to progress in training future generations of students, workers, and regulators; facilitating knowledge transfer between academia and industry; and providing a neutral venue for discussions.

Although spill and blowout prevention is a central tenet of oil system safety, the responsibilities associated with offshore production also include preparation for containment, response, and restoration. The Program will seek opportunities to assist in advising industry and government on the best available science and tools. Improving planning for spill response and decision making are also possible areas where the Program’s convening functions might assist in bringing together industry, government, and other stakeholders. For example, one area of opportunity that draws interest from multiple public- and private-sector stakeholders is improving understanding of major Gulf currents, such as the Loop Current and its eddies, which can influence the safety and timing of operational activities such as drilling or moving the platforms.

Improve Understanding of Human Health–Environment Connections

GOAL 2    Improve understanding of the connections between human health and the environment to support the development of healthy and resilient Gulf communities.

Health is more than lack of illness. Human health, for the Program’s purposes, is defined as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The environments in which people live, work, and play are connected to health and well-being in a variety of ways, as exemplified by a wealth of ecosystem services in the Gulf region. Coastal wetlands, for example, regulate water quality, reduce the severity of storm impacts, and provide food and recreational opportunities. Other ecosystem services provide highly valued resources such as fish, oil, and natural gas that are extracted by major employers in the region and provide an economic base critical to community and individual well-being. These are just some of the many connections between human communities and their surrounding environments that influence health.

The impacts of the DWH oil spill on communities and ecosystems in the Gulf region illustrate the need to better understand these connections. Closure of fishing grounds, for example, threatened the livelihoods of individuals and caused disruptions in entire communities associated with the seafood industry (particularly those also involved in subsistence fishing). More broadly, uncertainty about exposure to and the health and environmental impacts of spill-related contaminants continues to drive public concern about the long-term effects of the spill. Mental and behavioral

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

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health effects are of particular concern, with lessons from the Exxon Valdez spill and other disasters suggesting the potential for long-lasting impacts on community recovery. Over the next 30 years, natural and man-made disasters, climate change impacts, and other environmental stressors will present similar, complex challenges to the physical, mental, and social well-being of communities in the Gulf and other continental shelf areas. Understanding the interrelationships among health, ecological, and economic impacts of disasters and other environmental stressors will be crucial to addressing these challenges.

Resilience is a concept used by a variety of disciplines—from engineering to sociology—to describe the capacity of a system to absorb and recover from a disturbance. Resilient human communities anticipate risk, limit impacts, recover quickly, and successfully adapt when faced with adverse events and change. In the Gulf and other coastal regions, resilience is heavily influenced by interactions between human communities and their natural environment, yet these linkages are often not well understood. The Program will seek to foster relevant research across disciplines—including physical, biological, social, and health sciences—to advance understanding of factors that influence the vulnerability, recovery, and resilience of ecosystems and communities. Integrative research to examine these factors—including feedbacks between human systems (health, social, and economic dimensions, among others) and ecosystems—will help communities to better anticipate and respond to disasters and other environmental stressors.

The Program’s focus on linkages between the environment and human health will include efforts to improve capacity to detect, assess, and communicate about environmental health risks in ways that support the development of healthy and resilient communities. National, state, and local efforts to improve community resilience have focused on preparedness for, response to, and recovery from all hazards. In addition to improving the understanding of factors influencing community resilience, the Program could contribute to these efforts in a variety of ways, including

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

identifying baseline information needed to track the effects of future disasters and other environmental disturbances; identifying variables and mechanisms that can help address public concerns about health, air and water quality, and the long-term safety of seafood; and improving capacity to prepare for and recover from future adverse events. The Program will seek to provide information that can guide decisions by the public and policy makers and to advance scientific understanding. Additionally, the program will work to support the development of health, scientific, community, and policy leaders who can address complex issues at the intersection between human and ecosystem health.

Advance Understanding of the Gulf of Mexico as a Dynamic System

image

GOAL 3    Advance understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system with complex, interconnecting human and environmental systems, functions, and processes to inform the protection and restoration of ecosystem services.

The underlying challenge of inadequate ecosystem understanding that was faced during the DWH oil spill in 2010 still exists: If there were to be another major blowout or industry-related disaster, is there an adequate base understanding of current conditions to enable adequate response, understanding of damages, and recovery? Is there adequate understanding of systems, functions, and processes and interconnections to inform response, and ultimately recovery? Given the myriad stressors, including the impacts of climate change, is there adequate understanding of key variables to track and anticipate change, and use the information to inform decision making?

Much research has been done on the Gulf of Mexico as a region and ecosystem. However, the scale and complexity of the Gulf leave many unanswered questions, especially about how this large ecosystem functions, how it will change with time, and how it might be affected by perturbations such as those introduced by oil and gas exploration and production as well as severe weather events and changing climate. Scientific research across the physical, biological, social, and

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

image

health sciences can provide an objective basis for advancing understanding of the phenomena and processes that define and shape the Gulf ecosystem. It also can help project how the Gulf ecosystem will respond to change—whether slow chronic changes such as rising temperatures or episodic changes from hurricanes or blowouts and oil spills.

Because other parts of the United States also grapple with the interplay of environmental change and energy production, the Program offers an opportunity for research of national significance and relevance and for transfer of knowledge among U.S. regions and other nations addressing similar issues. A critical tool to assist in advancing understanding of the Gulf system will be environmental monitoring. Environmental monitoring, including observations, measurements, analysis, modeling, and interpretation, will require broad, coordinated, and ongoing efforts. To advance the knowledge of the interconnectivity between environmental and human health, similar advances are needed to adequately monitor human health parameters and how coordinated and ongoing efforts can be promoted. The Program will seek opportunities to advance coordinated planning, technological innovation, and integration of data, especially in ways that advance a regional and ecosystem-oriented approach.

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×

Program Objectives

In its initial 5 years of work (2015-2020) the Program will begin to pursue the following program objectives:

  • Partner with industry, government, and academia to explore key factors to prevent future blowouts, oil spills, and accidents and enhance safety culture.

  • Explore models of decision-support systems for safe and environmentally sustainable offshore oil and gas development, disaster response, and remediation options.

  • Provide research opportunities that improve understanding of how social, economic, and environmental factors influence community vulnerability, recovery, and resilience.

  • Support research, long-term observations and monitoring, and information development to advance understanding of environmental conditions, ecosystem services, and community health and well-being in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • Support the development of future professionals and leaders—in science, industry, health, policy, and education—who apply cross-boundary approaches to critical issues that span oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources.

  • Identify opportunities for knowledge transfer between the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf regions.

  • Support activities to improve understanding and use of scientific information by the public and policy makers in decisions related to environmental stewardship, human health improvement, and responsible oil and gas production.

Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"2 PROGRAM MISSION, GOALS, AND OBJECTIVES." National Research Council. 2014. The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18962.
×
Page 31
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In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico caused the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, resulting in significant impacts on the region's environment and residents. Legal settlements with the companies held responsible led the federal government to ask the National Academy of Sciences to form and administer a 30-year program to enhance oil system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. continental shelf areas where offshore oil and gas exploration and production occur or are under consideration. The new Gulf Research Program will receive $500 million to support activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

The Gulf Research Program: A Strategic Vision establishes the Program's foundation and introduces its mission, goals, and objectives. It describes some initial activities and sets out the Program's vision for contributing lasting benefit to the Gulf region and the nation. The Program is an extraordinary opportunity to foster science on a regional scale and over the long term.

The document will be of interest to scientists, health professionals, engineers, and educators who wish to learn about, collaborate with, and submit proposals to the Program, and to all those who share the goal of enhancing resilience in areas where offshore energy production, vibrant communities, and dynamic ecosystems coexist.

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