UH Takes Subsea Program to New Heights

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Dr. Matt Franchek discusses the University of Houston's Global Subsea University Alliance.

In the deepest reaches of the sea lie vast oil and gas reserves that dwarf anything that has ever been discovered on land. And right in the back yard of one of the world’s foremost energy cities, the University of Houston (UH) is working with some of the other leading subsea universities on a global program designed to help bring that nether world, and the rich resources that lie within, a little closer.

Dr. Mathew Franchek
Dr. Mathew Franchek,  Founding Director of Subsea Engineering at the University of Houston
Founding Director of Subsea Engineering at the University of Houston

Rigzone sat down with Dr. Matthew Franchek, the founder of the university’s subsea program and the director of the International Subsea Engineering Research Institute, to learn about its global efforts working with some of the other premier subsea universities. 

More is being learned about the subsea environment all the time, but there is still much to be learned, Franchek said. He noted that here are many challenges to overcome, such as temperature extremes, the corrosive effects of salt water, and pressures as high as 15,000 pounds per square inch, at depths where oil changes its characteristics and needs to be pumped up to the surface by electrical motors connected to pumps. Umbilical cords two miles long or more, carrying information and electrical power along an unbroken path, and a plethora of one-off parts specially made for this extreme environment ... the cost of subsea exploration is daunting, even for oil and gas majors, and a parts or systems failure can easily send costs spiraling out of control. Yet, he noted that the price of leaving the resources below the bottom of the sea is even greater. 

Rigzone: How did the structure of the Global Subsea University Alliance start? And what is the structure of the program?

Franchek: We know this is an international business, and we really wanted to make it easier for students to get their subsea education. Also, this [subsea] is a really demanding thing to study. So, we helped create and lead this partnership. We are working with Norway’s Bergen University College, Curtin University in Australia, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, National University of Singapore and Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Each one [of the participating universities] has a signature area - a niche - that they excel in. The University of Aberdeen is the global leader in pipeline design. At UH, we specialize in intelligent subsea systems and computational subsea engineering, although we have broader strengths, such as the work in multiphase flow, because of where we exist. We have the world’s leading companies right here. 

We had to standardize the curriculum across the six participating universities. We have to have some commonality. For any UH student, we have pre-defined classes from the other universities that we’ll accept. If one of our students wants to take one of the classes at another university, and it’s not pre-approved, send us the syllabus and we’ll get it done. 


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