Enhancing the Scientific Value of Industry Remotely Operated Vehicles in Our Oceans was published yesterday and cites research from 14 schools, institutes and universities across Australia and internationally.
Scientists praised the Australian oil and gas industry for access to footage from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), saying collaborations with the energy sector had led to "significant scientific discoveries," which would not otherwise have been made.
Discoveries over recent years include new species of deepwater marine life off the North West Shelf in WA, new opportunities for decommissioning such as artificial reefs, underwater volcanoes in the North Sea, UK, and various shipwrecks throughout the Asia Pacific region.
However, while the research noted collaborations had great outcomes for both universities and research institutions, it raised concerns that oil and gas operators were unwilling to share more data.
According to the academics the oil and gas industry could "fuel scientific discoveries" and propel new studies by allowing "slight modifications" to ROV operations and improving data sharing.
Scientists said there were many opportunities for big name offshore oil and gas operators, such as Woodside and Inpex, to "enhance the scientific value" of data from ROVs "without significantly impacting scheduling or adding to deployment costs."
The modifications proposed included imaging improvements, adding sensors to ROVs and collection of biological samples while operating.
"By partnering with qualities and experienced research scientists, industry can improve the quality of their ROV-derived data, allowing the data to be analysed robustly," the research said.
"Small changes by industry now could provide substantial benefits to scientific research in the long-term and improve the quality of scientific data in existence once the structures require decommissioning."
Australian industrial robotics and tech developer Nexxis is one of the leaders within the oil and gas sector, having collaborated with various schools and research institutions for years.
However, speaking to Energy News this afternoon, Nexxis said it understood the science community's concerns, saying oil and gas operators had historically been hesitant to give up data.
"It's not just a marine science issue, it's a general science problem," Nexxis founder Jason De Silveira said, adding his own company faced the challenge of creating artificial intelligence technology for industry, without data sets from willing participants.
"I would say oil and gas companies' approach to data sharing is a significant challenge. For instance, we need a data lake of hundreds and hundreds of images to create AI recognition software and we struggle to find it."
De Silveira acknowledged that all oil and gas companies, not just in Australia, but globally, knew the value of data as a competitive edge, but said without providing it to scientists and developers, there was a gap in future research.
He said the only way around this was an independent body, "someone industry can trust to be involved," but that usually came in the form of a not-for-profit, which lacked the "horsepower or funding to do something with datasets."
According to the researchers this would help build a social license for oil and gas companies operating offshore Australia.
"Such changes also have the potential to enhance industry's environmental stewardship by improving their environmental management and facilitating more informed engagement with a range of external stakeholders, including regulators and the public," the study said.
For now, Nexxis, which already runs a successful university student program in partnership with the University of Western Australia, said it would be open to some of the suggested modifications to ROVs and other robotics if industry were willing to be part of new trials.
"We would absolutely help with taking robotic platforms and integrating new technologies with other parties," De Silveira said.
"It's not actually that hard to mount another camera or install a new temperature sensor to ROVs. The issue is whether industry are open to it."
He said industry should perhaps rethink its data sharing stance and consider what data was being protected and for what purpose.
"It would take some effort into understanding the issues. But we know that not all data is a major IP risk.
"Industry could consider removing some of its protections. We need data sets to help industry, yet it's the most difficult thing to get."