Morgantown, W. Va. — For their efforts in providing accurate estimates of the leakage rates at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, three researchers from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have earned national recognition from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The USGS presented its Directors Award for Exemplary Service to the Nation to three NETL researchers for applying advanced techniques under extreme time constraints to estimate leakage rates which assisted in setting levels of response following the drilling rig explosion at the Macondo Well in April 2010.
The Deepwater Horizon Unified Command established an independent technical group to generate the oil leak estimates and remove initial doubts regarding early leakage estimates. The Director of the USGS, who led the technical group, presented its award to Frank Shaffer, an engineer in NETL’s Computational Science Division; Grant Bromhal, an engineer in NETL’s Geosciences Division; and George Guthrie, focus area lead for NETL’s Geological and Environmental Systems. The three researchers served on two technical group teams—a Plume Analysis Team and a Nodal Analysis Team—with researchers from other U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories, academia, and industry.
When presenting the award to the NETL researchers, USGS Director Marcia McNutt said that “their answers and insights helped guide important decisions and made a very real and positive difference during the response to this unprecedented oil spill event.” She specifically lauded their ability to “work together as true teams, irrespective of organizational affiliations, setting aside personal and professional lives to tackle these challenges.”
Shaffer led a group of NETL researchers who contributed to the Plume Analysis Team’s estimates by applying an image analysis technique, called particle image velocimetry (PIV), to evaluate the leak rate from submarine videos of the oil leak jets 5,000 feet below the sea surface. The team’s flow rate estimates of 60,000 barrels per day were very close to later government estimates of 55,000 barrels accumulated from all measurement data. The NETL-developed PIV imaging technology, originally designed to create cleaner fossil energy processes, has been successfully applied to a range of medical, chemical, energy, and other industry systems.
Bromhal and Guthrie led researchers who contributed to the Nodal Analysis Team, which used a variety of approaches to simulate flow restrictions in the oil reservoir and wellbore system to estimate flow rate from the well. The team conducted detailed evaluations related to the uncertainties associated with the oil spill well, wellbore system, and fluids, as well as how those uncertainties related to estimates of the flow rate. The Nodal Analysis Team consisted of sub-teams from NETL and four other DOE national laboratories: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore.