When NASA first set out on the famous Space Race in the 1950s they had one main goal, to put the first man on the moon. The innovation that came from going to space has changed our lives forever. A closer look at the innovations led by the oil industry over the years reveals a similar pattern of discoveries being passed on and improved upon between industries. The first oil well was drilled over a century ago in 1859. Through the years the operation of drilling for oil has remained the same, but the inventions we have created to promote efficiency and safety to our process has changed dramatically.
ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles)
In the 1960s the U.S. Navy created the “Cable-Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle” (CURV) to perform deep sea rescue operations. The most notable use of the CURV was in 1966 when the U.S. Navy was tasked with recovering a nuclear bomb from the Mediterranean Sea after the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash. Commercial firms saw the potential for similar technology in offshore oil operations. The oil & gas industry made advancements to the CURV to release what we now know as the ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) in the 1970s.
Today we have ROVs to take the risk of subsea work, but before ROVs, the oil & gas industry depended on humans to float to the bottom of the sea to help install and fix subsea systems. The wealth of knowledge we learned through years of oilfield diving has given us unique expertise. Through the years NASA has contracted companies such as Oceaneering International to share that knowledge. Before NASA could put a man on the moon, they had to engineer the perfect spacesuit that could withstand pressure changes. NASA used the technology for pressurized diving suits to create spacesuits for their astronauts.
Sensor Fiber Optics
Over the last few decades, the oil and gas industry has adopted fiber optic sensors to monitor their oil wells. The popularity of fiber optics sensors is continuing to grow in the oil & gas industry but has also made expansions into the medical industry. Cardiologists have found an essential use for sensor fiber optics when treating patients with blockages in their arteries. When used in the medical field, sensor fiber optics can be used to measure pressure in the coronary artery after a blockage. Doctors can instantly tell from the fiber optic data if the artery blockage is causing the patient any other symptoms and whether or not they must proceed with surgery.
One of the most well-known discoveries that have come out of oil and gas innovation is the research done on earth sciences. The oil & gas industry first invented cable-free seismometers, or seismic nodes, to assist with oil and gas exploration, and today is commonly used by seismologists. The ability to wirelessly observe large swaths of seismically active areas for weeks at a time is notably valuable when monitoring earthquakes. In 2014, over 900 wireless nodes were uses to monitor tremors at one of the US’s most active volcanoes, Mount St.Helens in Washington state. Like all industries, oil & gas is always changing. We will continue improving our method. Along the way, we will uncover applications from other industries that we can build off. Each industry is constantly inventing new technologies that are transformative to our jobs, but the rewards of our innovations span beyond one industry.
A Brief History. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2019, from https://rov.org/history/.
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Jacobs, T. (2019, March 1). How Oil Innovation Has Benefited Other Industries. Retrieved
October 11, 2019, from https://pubs.spe.org/en/jpt/jpt-article-detail/?art=5153.
McGrath, J. (n.d.). Top 5 Innovations in Oil Drilling. Retrieved October 11, 2019, from
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