Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
COVID-19 virus vaccine development, believe it or not, is being aided by methane control technology developed by an ever innovating oil and gas industry.
What happens when an oil driller has a well or two or dozen where they get great oil production, but there are no pipelines connected to cart away the associated natural gas that comes out of the borehole along with the oil? There are only a couple of options–venting (releasing methane into the air) and flaring (burning the methane, turning it into carbon dioxide).
There are a number of innovative companies that have a new solution: Go ahead and burn the methane, but burn it to produce electricity, and use the electricity (at the well site) to power computers. The computers are connected to a network of other computers and form a sort of supercomputer. Crusoe Energy Systems is one of those innovative companies, now using their distributed computing systems at oil wells to work on computations aimed at finding a vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Crusoe Energy Systems’ computer deployments are not found in the Marcellus/Utica. They are located in western shale plays–in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. Even though this is not strictly an M-U story, it highlights the contributions of our industry in fighting this dread virus. So, our hats are off to Crusoe and others stepping up to help. Here’s their rundown on what’s happening:
Crusoe Energy Systems, Inc. has deployed more than twenty energy-intensive computing modules throughout America’s oil and gas fields as part of its Digital Flare Mitigation™ system, which captures otherwise flared or wasted natural gas to power computing processes at the wellhead. Today the company announces that it has begun allocating a portion of its computing systems to the search for a coronavirus vaccine.
Crusoe is working with the Folding@Home Consortium, a distributed computing system for life-science research launched out of Stanford University. The Consortium allows researchers to remotely utilize Crusoe’s computational resources for the vaccine search and discovery process, and recently launched a new protein folding simulation project specifically targeting vaccines and therapeutic antibodies for COVID-19.
Crusoe has configured eight of its most advanced graphic processing units to support the Consortium’s vaccine development project, and commenced work units for COVID-19 research in Crusoe’s field operations center in North Dakota earlier this week. Crusoe is now one of the largest contributors of computing power to the protein folding Consortium, ranking in the top 10% of computational power providers for the vaccine research system. Crusoe ultimately plans to deploy protein folding servers to multiple flare gas-powered computing modules in the oilfield after expanding network bandwidth at selected sites.
COVID-19 is closely related to the SARS coronavirus. Both coronaviruses infect the lungs when viral proteins bind to receptor proteins in lung cells. A SARS therapeutic antibody, which is a protein that can prevent the SARS coronavirus from binding to lung receptors, has been developed previously. To develop a similar antibody for COVID-19, researchers need to better evaluate how the COVID-19 spike protein binds to receptors in the human body. The Consortium’s new protein folding project simulates antibody proteins and how they might prevent COVID-19 viral infection, however, the simulation process is very computationally intensive and therefore energy intensive.
Crusoe can support this vaccine research using its distributed computing resources deployed at natural gas flaring sites in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. Today, Crusoe consumes millions of cubic feet of natural gas per day that would have otherwise been wasted by burning in the air, or “flared.” Instead, that waste gas powers Crusoe’s mobile, modular computing systems, which are deployed directly to the wellhead to mitigate flaring. Crusoe’s initial computational use case was blockchain processing. More recently the company has been developing high performance and general-purpose cloud computing solutions, which are used in a variety of applications including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and protein folding.
“At this time of growing global concern around the coronavirus, we are grateful to have the opportunity to support the Folding@Home Consortium’s search for a vaccine,” said Chase Lochmiller, CEO and co-founder of Crusoe. “We’ve configured very powerful computing hardware that is typically used for machine learning and artificial intelligence research to search for helpful therapies against coronavirus. This is very much in keeping with Crusoe’s vision that distributed computing resources have an important role to play in solving real world problems.”
Crusoe began processing work units for COVID-19 on March 15th. In addition to COVID-19, the Company has previously completed work units related to cancer research.
About Crusoe Energy Systems Inc.
Crusoe Energy Systems provides innovative solutions for the energy industry. By converting natural gas to energy-intensive computing, Crusoe’s Digital Flare Mitigation™ service delivers an environmentally sound way to create a beneficial use for otherwise wasted natural gas. Crusoe currently has flare mitigation projects operating in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin oilfield, Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg oilfield and North Dakota and Montana’s Bakken oilfield. Systems are scalable up to millions of cubic feet per day and can be deployed anywhere in the United States or Canada.
Background on Flaring
Natural gas flaring has become an acute pain point for shale oil producers, which produce natural gas as a byproduct of oil. This oil-associated natural gas production has outpaced gas pipeline infrastructure in many parts of the North American shale industry. In the absence of pipeline capacity, operators tend to burn natural gas in a process known as “flaring” or “combusting.” Approximately 335 billion cubic feet of natural gas are flared annually in the United States, according to latest 2017 data from the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR), which is enough gas to power more than 7 million U.S. homes. Flaring generates pushback from the public and policymakers, who increasingly raise environmental concerns around resource waste, visual impacts and air quality.
Editor’s Note: This is just one more demonstration of the constant innovation that characterizes the oil and gas industry; innovation that solves every problem raised by its opponents and has made American energy-independent and has kept reducing energy costs.