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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015  

Low energy prices no barrier for R&D investments

Al Watan and The Peninsula interview with Sara Ortwein, President, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company

DOHA: Technological innovation is integral in stabilizing the global oil market. The slump in global energy prices will not affect sustained future investments in ExxonMobil’s research and development (R&D) sector, said a global expert.

Photo — Sara Ortwein, President, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company

Technology is fundamental to energy businesses, regardless of the price cycle. And it has really been the foundation of everything that we have done over long periods in the industry, Sara Ortwein, President, ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company told The Peninsula in an interview.

On oil majors’ announcements on significant cuts in capital expenditures against the backdrop of crash in oil prices, Mrs. Ortwein said: “Capital investments in projects is very different from the investments in research and development. I can’t speak for any other operator and their point of view, but I know that at ExxonMobil, we are maintaining our focus on research and development. It’s a long-term investment and it’s going to help us be successful in developing technology for the future.” 

Price fall or price rise, technology is key to energy business. It transforms the way companies operate. “If you look at the gas business here, a lot of technology has gone into developing LNG to ship it all around the world. Thirty-three countries are importing LNG. The complexity of this business is tremendous. So we can’t stop and resume investment in this sector. We have to maintain the steady stream in research and development investments. And going forward, ExxonMobil will sustain investments in research and development. Now more than ever, this sustained investment in technology is key to empowering future success,” she said.

Mrs. Ortwein said improving production and operational efficiency is one driver of innovation in the industry. ExxonMobil is globally maintaining a $1bn investment in research and development. 

She emphasized that safety is at the center of all of these efforts. ExxonMobil Research Qatar (EMRQ) has invested in research to explore ways to enhance safety training in the oil and gas sector, and specifically in the LNG business. 

Earlier this year,  ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company awarded a global commercial license for the Immersive 3D Operator Training Simulator technology to co-developer EON Reality Inc. The patent-pending technology was developed by scientists from EMRQ and EON Reality Inc. over a five and a half year period, and incorporates an ultrarealistic state-of-the-art, multi-sided immersive virtual reality. Mrs. Ortwein noted that the immersive virtual reality could be used for training process operators and young engineers joining the workforce in oil and gas production, processing, and transportation facilities. 

Explaining EMRQ’s partnership with Qatari entities and its initiatives in Qatar, she said Qatar’s General Directorate of Natural Reserves Private Engineering Office (PEO) and EMRQ recently signed a memorandum of understanding for collaborative research to protect Qatar’s ecology.

In line with this partnership, EMRQ will leverage existing information gathered with its research partners Qatar University (QU) and Texas A&M at Galveston in the United States, on the local population of dugongs (marine mammals). EMRQ will provide PEO with technical advice, share scientific data, and transfer technology, as well as impart training and capacity building opportunities.

EMRQ and PEO, in partnership with QU, have also been collaborating to commission a research project to study ecology and geology of the inland sea (Khor Al-Udai), to help better protect it.

In another strategic initiative, EMRQ and QU have signed an agreement to launch the Qatar University ExxonMobil Research Scholars Program.

EMRQ and QU have a shared commitment to advance science and technology in Qatar through research and development, and to promote academic excellence through strategic investment in human capital, innovative technology and state-of-the-art facilities. As part of the research scholars agreement, QU and EMRQ intend to develop programs designed to not only promote academic and industry relations, but to foster innovation and facilitate the development and use of state-of-the-art technology.

QU and EMRQ will also mutually support a number of postgraduate research projects in the fields of environmental risk assessment, and monitoring and water re-use. The research projects are intended to lead academic publications, which encourage the academic development of students. 

Along with its local and international partners, EMRQ continues to work to provide the scientific research needed to develop key technologies that will benefit the oil and gas industry in Qatar and around the world, so that it functions in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

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