The Arctic may contain more than a fifth of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas resources. A new Centre for Research-based Innovation (SFI) will help to ensure that projects to recover petroleum from this ecologically fragile region are carried out in a sustainable manner.
Over the next eight years, Sustainable Marine and Coastal Technology (SAMCoT) will be a leading national and international force in developing reliable technology for sustainable ways to explore and recover the Arctic’s wealth of natural resources. Affiliated with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), SAMCoT is one of the seven new centres awarded funding under the Research Council of Norway’s SFI scheme.
Norwegian and international partners
SAMCoT is hosted by NTNU’s Faculty of Engineering Science and Technology in Trondheim and is headed by Professor Sveinung Løset. Norwegian partners at the research centre include the SINTEF Group and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), as well as international research groups in Finland, Germany, The Netherlands and Russia.
The Research Council of Norway is contributing roughly NOK 80 million of the centre’s budget of nearly NOK 200 million through 2018.
Estimates indicate that more than a fifth of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources may lie in the Arctic. Morten Karlsen, Chairperson for the new SFI and Statoil’s Head of Research for the company’s Arctic research programme Going North, has no doubt that these resources will be recovered, but stresses that this will require advanced technological solutions that not only ensure effective recovery but also protect the vulnerable Arctic environment.
“In the early days of Norwegian oil recovery,” says Dr Karlsen, “we used concrete platforms. From there we moved on to using lighter, floating production ships and seabed-based installations. Future operations in the Arctic will necessitate entirely new solutions designed to withstand ice, low temperatures, harsh weather conditions and huge environmental challenges.”
Against this backdrop, Norwegian industry players such as Statoil, Shell Technology Norway, Det Norske Veritas, Aker Solutions, and Barlindhaug Consult AS have committed to a long-term partnership with research groups through collaboration in SAMCoT.
“Leading petroleum companies, industry players, researchers and R&D groups are joining forces through the activities under SAMCoT, so expectations are high,” says Dr Karlsen. “We are confident we will be reaping results that have a major impact on the offshore industry in the years ahead.”
Strong basis for innovation
Centre Manager Løset knows that Norwegian and international stakeholders will be keeping close tabs on SAMCoT’s work and progress.
“I am thankful for the head start we have,” he says. “Good solutions have been developed for the petroleum industry in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast for many years now. But clearly we have to deal with a completely different set of challenges when we move operations to the Arctic.”
He also points out that SAMCoT is not intended as a product development programme for the petroleum industry, but rather a centre to generate knowledge to create a scientific basis for industrial activity in the Arctic.
Research activities will concentrate on two areas of innovation:
- marine technology for offshore petroleum development in the Arctic
- technology for Arctic coastal-area petroleum development
Over the next few years, researchers and students from Norway and other countries will collaborate on analysing data related to ice, icebergs and permafrost across a broad geographical expanse of the Arctic. In addition, research will focus on how fixed and floating installations stand up to Arctic ice and weather conditions. The objective is to find solutions to enable the industry to meet Arctic challenges at sea as well as on land, while at the same time taking all necessary environmental precautions.
Right timing for SAMCoT
Global demand for energy is growing constantly and will depend on fossil energy sources for many years to come. The large deposits of fossil energy thought to exist in the Arctic and the abundance of other natural resources make the region increasingly significant for Norway and the world.
“This SFI comes at a critical juncture in the development of the Arctic,” says Eirik Normann, Director of the Department for Innovation in Industry, at the Research Council. “SAMCoT will help to provide the research-based knowledge and education the industry needs in order to develop energy-sector technology specialised for the Arctic. At the same time, the centre forms a basis for developing the environment-friendly, land-based infrastructure needed in this fragile region.”
The need for research on and new knowledge about the Arctic has increased in recent years – given the importance of managing natural resources, meeting the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities related to climate change and the development of new political framework conditions for the region. A key objective of the Research Council’s Research Strategy for the Arctic and Northern Areas reads: Norway must seek to be a leading nation for research on the Arctic and northern areas and to develop knowledge that can help to enhance natural resource management, protect the environment and spur the development of North Norway.
Research with a solid foundation
Torbjørn Digernes, Rector of NTNU, points out that the university has been working on developing Arctic technology for a number of years – work that has primarily been commissioned and funded by industry.
“SAMCoT is joining a community with know-how in this kind of technology and knowledge that will be very valuable in the centre’s activities,” says the rector. “I am confident that SAMCoT will deliver important results for its industrial partners.”
The long-term funding now being made available to Arctic research activities at the new SFI represents a milestone for NTNU, which is host to three other SFIs.
Dean Ingvald Strømmen of NTNU’s Faculty of Engineering Science and Technology notes the value of the steady, long-term funding provided by the SFI scheme. “It results in a great deal of concentrated activity, which so often in turn generates new activity.”