They're studying c-c-cold to aid offshore drillers
St. John's Newfoundland
Hany Hamza emerged from the cold locker wearing a wool cap, thick gloves, and warm jacket. a sign by the door read: "Danger of Asphyxiation or Hypothermia." the doctoral student from tropical India was doing research at Memorial University here on the strength of ice.Skip to next paragraph
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Ice, icebergs, ice floes, pack ice, snow -- there's keen interest at this city's research facilities in such cold-weather phenomena. Scientists here want to become the world's top experts in this area of research for practical reasons. The future exploitation of the province's resources hangs on mastering ice in its various forms.
In fact, this province's offshore oil and gas potential shows early signs of being large enough to be of considerable significance for the world's energy supply.
Mr. Hamza's research could prove useful in drilling for oil and in the frozen sea north of Canada. One technique, already used by Dome PEtroleum in drilling in the Beaufort Sea, is to build an artificial ice island for the drilling equipment.Seawater is pumped from under the ice and sprayed on top of the pack ice, rapidly freezing. Eventually, the ice is thick enough to support the heavy equipment. But after some time, the ice loses its strength and the island must be rebuilt.
Mr. Hamza was finding out the strength of various kinds of ice at various temperatures by tests in the cold locker, which can drop the thermometer to -40 degrees F. He has worked out a computer model of his findings for engineering purposes. To his satisfaction, the results of his model agree with findings "in the field" -- that is, out on the pack ice.
In another facility in the same building, another scientist demonstrated a machine to study the scouring of the ocean bottom by glaciers. Oil companies have found oil and gas offshore from Labrador and Newfoundland, but there is some doubt whether they can bring it ashore by pipeline. That's because icebergs breaking off the glaciers of Greenland and floating down so-called "iceberg alley" along the coast of Labrador could tear out the pipeline.
A giant berg, weighing perhaps 20 to 25 million tons, can dip 700 feet below the surface of the water. These frozen behemoths usually move along with the currents and winds at 1 or 2 knots. Underwater photographs show that a large iceberg can scrape a channel in the bottom as much as 21 feet deep for as long as 2.5 miles. Most bottom scouring, however, would not be so severe.
The scientists here at "C-Core" -- the Center for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering, Memorial University -- have simulated an iceberg driven by an electric motor and a sea bottom (a sand pile) to get a better idea of the pressures involved when an iceberg grounds. The statistics gathered from this small-scale model are blown up by a computer to get estimates of the real thing.
At the moment, Mobil Oil executives who are studying how to extract the oil from the Hibernia field 192 miles offshore from here believe a pipeline system might be feasible. One possibility would be to have a standard production platform made with steel girders, fixed to the bottom, but surrounded by a major underwater rock dike to ward off large icebergs.