Trucks at Work

Searching for oil … with space technology?

The recent deal between Norway’s Statoil and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to deploy in their words “a wide range of technologies” to aid in oil and gas exploration and production efforts isn’t too surprising, given that many systems developed for operation beyond out planet’s surface are increasingly finding their way into many Earth-based efforts.

Indeed, Ford Motor Co. announced plans to tap into orbital communication technology earlier this year as part of the automaker’s ongoing effort to improve vehicle capabilities down here on Earth

Statoil said it seeks to tap into NASA’s space knowledge – directly through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena, California, which is managed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for NASA – to look for safer and more cost-effective oil and gas exploration solutions.

"Searching for oil and gas resources has become so advanced technically over the past decade that new solutions and ideas are needed,” explained Lars Høier, Statoil acting senior vice president of research, development and innovation, in a statement.

“To Statoil this is a significant opportunity to take technologies developed by NASA and JPL for the harsh and challenging environments of space and apply them to the equally demanding environments of oil and gas production," he added. “We're excited to work with NASA—one of the leading research organizations globally—to evaluate the development and application of technologies that have more in common with outer space exploration than previously thought."

[Indeed, finding out where oil deposits are hidden is tricky work, something touched on in this interestingly video below produced by Tullow Oil.]


Looking for oil and gas deposits is also expensive work, as Statoil said it annually spends roughly $550 million in U.S. dollars on research, development and innovation. The agreement with NASA, Statoil added, is complementary to research work already underway.

The contract between Statoil and NASA is expected to run from 2013 to 2018, with the option of an extension, and will focus on the following research areas:  supercomputing, materials, robotics, development of new tools, and communication optionality.

"This agreement is the latest example of how NASA and JPL technologies can benefit us here on Earth,” noted Charles Elachi, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, pointing out that the lab is currently working with 21 spacecraft and nine instruments conducting active missions. “It’s also an example of how collaborations with other industries can be beneficial to space exploration.”

And finding more oil and gas – plus helping to extract it more safely – helps trucking in the long run, too, in terms of fuel supply. That’s certainly a positive ripple effect from such efforts.

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