Why is heart surgery like drilling for oil and gas?

True innovation can mean finding solutions in unlikely places. At ExxonMobil, we’re constantly seeking new ways to help us take on the world’s toughest energy challenges. Sometimes that means looking in the last place you’d expect, like the hospital.

Several years ago, an ExxonMobil engineer found himself on a flight seated next to Dr. Alan Lumsden, a cardiovascular surgeon with the renowned DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center at Houston’s Methodist Hospital.

It was a fortuitous seating assignment.

During the course of their in-flight chat, the two realized that despite working in seemingly unrelated industries, their professions actually have one important feature in common: pumps and pipes, which are critical tools used to assure flow, whether in the human circulatory system or in oil and gas development.

Their conversation would lead ExxonMobil to a joint collaboration with Methodist Hospital and the University of Houston to explore the similarities between the medical and petroleum industries. The fruit of this partnership can be seen in a fascinating conference – the annual Pumps & Pipes Symposium – that brings doctors together with oil and gas engineers to spark solutions to problems both face. The sixth gathering of this groundbreaking collaboration gets underway next week.

Pumps & Pipes is already challenging old ideas and leading to new innovations in both medicine and energy. At last year’s gathering, a representative from an oilfield-services company spoke on the use of open-hole swell packers (similar to the small dinosaur figures that swell to 10 times their size when put in water) to section off zones in wells. As a result, medical researchers are now considering the idea of using expanding polymers to stop leaking from aneurysm repairs in the human body.

Similarly, the energy industry is considering the work of doctors who battle circulatory infections in order to create new ways to prevent pipeline corrosion.

Pumps & Pipes is more than just a conference. It’s a testament to what can happen when the best minds across industries collaborate and learn from each other – something to think about the next time your seatmate attempts to strike up a conversation in the friendly skies.


4 Comments

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  1. Georg Link says:

    Hi Ken,

    thank you for sharing this enlightening story. It is amazing how interconnected everything is and how we can learn from other professions like this. I’ll be looking forward to see more of this kind of discoveries.

    Georg

    • denise ward says:

      You believe this? This is a company that is taking resources that belong to everyone, destroying our natural landscapes and pushing carbon dioxide onto the market when they know full well that it is akin to suicide. This is not drama. We don’t need fossil fuel, there is unlimited amounts of energy from the sun alone, let alone the plethora of other renewable resources. We can’t keep burning fossil fuel. It’s writing our own and our children’s death certificates. But the worse part is the way the chemical composition of the world is changed by pumping this chemical into the atmosphere.

      • Martyn Link says:

        Hi Denise, if you look at the data produced by government agencies like the IEA or EIA you’ll see that solar + wind + hydro equate to less than 10% of our current global energy demand. The world would come to a complete halt if we turned off the fossil fuel tap. The challenge of increasing the scale of the energy supplied from renewable resources is huge. In my country (the UK), the problem is that while many people agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels, nobody wants a wind farm on their horizon. The government is planning on putting thousands of them offshore away from the population and have targets of being self sufficient from renewables in the medium term future. We need urgent action, but I’d hope you agree that it needs to be done in a way that enables society to continue to function?
        All the best,
        Martyn

      • Bill Jones says:

        Denise….so quit using your computer and the internet. Turn it off and go out in the woods and stay there. And don’t take any clothes, they’re made from petrochemicals. And no food, they were processed using machinery driven with petro power. No televiison, no power, no air conditioning, no medicines, no matches or knives or coats or bug spray or bottled waters. Just you and the woods…you have to make everything from scratch and kill your food with a stick. Good luck. Oh, I only have one question…did you learn this in high school? Are there more people like you that are this whacked out? Just curious.

  2. Georg Link says:

    Hi Ken,

    thank you for sharing this enlightening story. It is amazing how interconnected everything is and how we can learn from other professions like this. I’ll be looking forward to see more of this kind of discoveries.

    Georg

    • denise ward says:

      You believe this? This is a company that is taking resources that belong to everyone, destroying our natural landscapes and pushing carbon dioxide onto the market when they know full well that it is akin to suicide. This is not drama. We don’t need fossil fuel, there is unlimited amounts of energy from the sun alone, let alone the plethora of other renewable resources. We can’t keep burning fossil fuel. It’s writing our own and our children’s death certificates. But the worse part is the way the chemical composition of the world is changed by pumping this chemical into the atmosphere.

      • Martyn Link says:

        Hi Denise, if you look at the data produced by government agencies like the IEA or EIA you’ll see that solar + wind + hydro equate to less than 10% of our current global energy demand. The world would come to a complete halt if we turned off the fossil fuel tap. The challenge of increasing the scale of the energy supplied from renewable resources is huge. In my country (the UK), the problem is that while many people agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels, nobody wants a wind farm on their horizon. The government is planning on putting thousands of them offshore away from the population and have targets of being self sufficient from renewables in the medium term future. We need urgent action, but I’d hope you agree that it needs to be done in a way that enables society to continue to function?
        All the best,
        Martyn

      • Bill Jones says:

        Denise….so quit using your computer and the internet. Turn it off and go out in the woods and stay there. And don’t take any clothes, they’re made from petrochemicals. And no food, they were processed using machinery driven with petro power. No televiison, no power, no air conditioning, no medicines, no matches or knives or coats or bug spray or bottled waters. Just you and the woods…you have to make everything from scratch and kill your food with a stick. Good luck. Oh, I only have one question…did you learn this in high school? Are there more people like you that are this whacked out? Just curious.