Rice collaborating on national offshore research center

Rice University is a key partner in a new Houston-based national research center for subsea engineering and offshore energy sustainability issues. The Subsea Systems Institute, which is funded by penalty payments from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, was announced Jan. 16 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and will work to improve the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico by reducing the risk of offshore accidents, oil spills and other deep-water disasters.

The Subsea Systems Institute will focus on improving the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Subsea Systems Institute will focus on improving the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

The institute represents a consortium of researchers from Rice, the University of Houston (UH), NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Texas Southern University, Houston Community College and Lone Star College. Based at UH, the institute will serve as a liaison for industry and government regulators, facilitate testing and validation of equipment, help standard-setting institutions with neutral third-party knowledge and other best practices, develop new materials and science-based policies and aid workforce training.

“The Subsea Systems Institute is a significant win for Houston,” said Chuck McConnell, executive director of Rice’s Energy and Environment Initiative. “This is an R&D powerhouse located in the world’s energy capital, and it reinforces that Houston is the place to be if you’re developing new sustainable, cost-effective technologies and practices for offshore exploration and production.”

The institute is one of two new research consortia in Texas funded by penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as part of the ongoing
implementation of the federal RESTORE Act.

McConnell said the proposal for the Houston-based institute evolved among Rice, UH and other industry, academic and research partners in the DeepStar program, a joint industry project launched in 1992 to identify and develop viable, safe technologies for deep-water oil and gas production.

McConnell said the Subsea Systems Institute will work with companies like GE Oil & Gas, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Halliburton and Schlumberger to improve deep-sea drilling technology, practices and policies. While the RESTORE Act funds won’t become available until March, McConnell said institute partners will begin planning meetings in the coming weeks to prioritize research goals and targets and form an industry advisory board.

“This effort is in perfect alignment with Rice’s strategic goals,” McConnell said. “Our purpose at the Rice Energy and Environment Initiative is to be transformative and marketplace-driven. We are working to create effective partnerships with industry and other universities that promote state-of-the-art research in Houston.”

The second new Texas research center is based at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. In announcing the two new research centers, TCEQ said some $4.1 million will be made available in March from 2.5 percent of the RESTORE Trust Fund. TCEQ said the role of the Texas centers could expand as more financial resources are devoted to the fund.

TCEQ Commissioner Toby Baker, the Texas member of the RESTORE Council who is managing the implementation of the RESTORE Act in Texas, said, “I am pleased that the first resources allocated from the RESTORE Trust Fund will enrich our state’s economy through research and development, while also highlighting Texas’ commitment to the health of our coastlines.”


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.