It is tempting to think that universities only contribute knowledge and insights to the local economy, but they can also offer valuable equipment to local businesses.

The recent delivery of rock mechanics equipment to the University of Aberdeen is a fine example of this.  The high pressure/high temperature rock deformation apparatus, valued at £500,000, can test rock and cement samples at the kind of temperatures and stresses found beneath the sea floor.

The University of Aberdeen believes that the provision of accurate data on the behaviour of rocks under such extreme conditions will play a big part in the successful exploration and production activity at the kind of depths currently beyond existing drilling activity.

Helping exploration

Dr David Healy, from the University’s School of Geosciences, said: “Taking the central North Sea as an example, operators have gone deeper and deeper and there are significant technical challenges to overcome as conditions become hotter and more pressurised.

“Operators can be reluctant to pursue these types of projects because of the costs and potential hazards involved, and this is especially true in the current climate.

“This apparatus can make a tangible difference by providing companies with accurate data about the properties and behaviour of the rock at depths of up to 10 kilometres, which is far deeper than current drilling activity.

“Not only this, but it can also be used to measure the properties and behaviour of cement lining the well bores, so there’s an important engineering element to what it can deliver.

“This is the kind of valuable data that can reduce the risks to operators, and potentially encourage new exploration activity in the North Sea and other areas of potential, such as West of Shetland.”

University-business collaboration

The university is working with a number of companies with interests in the North Sea, and the Oil and Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC), to ensure the area remains on the cutting edge in the industry.  By working with industry, the team hopes to develop solutions that will aid exploration in the North Sea, and therefore affirm the university’s place in the innovation landscape of the region.

Ian Phillips, Chief Executive of OGIC, said: “The development of new technologies and processes for deep drilling applications will have a key role to play in exploration and production activity at home and in international deep-water environments.

“In Scotland, we have an opportunity to leverage our North Sea experience to be at the forefront of this work and OGIC’s investment in equipment at the University of Aberdeen will help to facilitate this. Open access to this equipment on the doorstep of our oil and gas industry will be of great benefit.

“Indeed, promoting Aberdeen as a global centre for technology and innovation in the industry will ensure that we maximise the North Sea opportunity in the years ahead and maintain high value jobs and expertise within the region beyond the operational life of fields in the UKCS.”