Five or so years ago, while I was attending the annual Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, I was invited to Halliburton’s office for a special demonstration. They wanted to show me the technology they were working on—believe me when I say it was well worth seeing. Essentially, it was a wireless system that would allow one person to control an offshore oil rig totally by themselves. They didn’t even need to be on the rig! The control person could be anywhere in the world, and they could initiate operations or shut them off, speed up production or slow it down… all with the press of a few buttons. My mind, of course, went to the implications of what such a system could mean for offshore Newfoundland.
We have had our share of offshore tragedies. Eighty-four crew members died when the Ocean Ranger drill rig sank on the Grand Banks in February 1982; 17 people were lost when their helicopter transport to the SeaRose FPSO (Cougar flight 491) crashed in 2009. Imagine, I thought, how much safer it would be if we didn’t need to transport workers hundreds of miles across the open ocean in order for them to get to work. If only we could implement this amazing technology in this part of the world.
We aren’t quite there yet, but it’s close. As you’ll read in this issue, Equinor is moving even further out to sea and into deeper water than any oil company has gone before. They are investing heavily in artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and wireless communications in an effort to make their Bay du Nord development as safe, sustainable and economical as they possibly can.
It’s not only extreme offshore developments that are being made more accessibly feasible via technology. From mining and aquaculture to forestry and green energy, technology is revolutionizing the way we interact with and develop our resources. Not only can we harvest more efficiently, with less waste, but it’s also advancing a sustainability agenda—which is essential given the speed at which the climate is changing.
Five years ago, autonomous offshore drill rigs seemed as realistic to me as the Star Trek transporter: great ideas but highly unlikely. So much has changed in such a short period of time that I can only assume the transporter tech is just around the corner. Beam me up, Scotty! •