As I reflect on today’s oil and gas industry, I’m reminded of its rich history and transformative impact. It is the lifeblood of our modern civilization and has enabled countries around the world to thrive. The exploration and production of hydrocarbons has evolved over several decades to incorporate increasingly advanced technologies from understanding and mapping the subsurface to refining extraction techniques to creating infrastructure.
The years of technical prowess and investment leveraged to harness oil and gas reserves have laid a critical foundation upon which tomorrow’s diverse energy mix will rely. Oil and gas built the energy economy of the last 100 years, and it will build the next 100 years.
Geothermal. When examining the vast traditional energy landscape, the inherent assets are not only existing wells but also the workforce. The advancement of geothermal technology allows oil and gas businesses to utilize the same wells and existing employees for a different process. We’re seeing some supermajors leveraging their resources in the field to advance the next generation of geothermal energy.
Geothermal production today is limited to bringing hot water to the surface. To enable geothermal to become more widely adopted, we have to be able to drill two to three miles down into the earth. This is especially challenging, due to the granite and hard rock encountered during drilling. We’re currently working with drilling experts on innovations to help overcome this obstacle to fracture those formidable formations and drill deeper without destroying drill bits.
Advancing such technology not only enables geothermal energy to be economically viable globally without the historic need to be tied to extremely high temperature gradients, but it also offers a way to repurpose decommissioned wells. This provides an approach for oil and gas companies to transform old wells from being a cost center to a profit center, while diversifying the businesses.
Hydrogen is exciting for its ability to provide an alternative energy source that complements our existing oil and gas infrastructure and assets. We’re especially excited about companies that utilize the methane pyrolysis approach to hydrogen production, as it appears to be more economical than electrolysis. Additionally, there are companies that have improved upon methane pyrolysis by utilizing microwave energy; only natural gas and electricity are required. Such companies are able to produce hydrogen from existing natural gas operations, which allow the world to benefit from two energy sources extracted from one common footprint.
Leveraging natural gas for hydrogen enables the investment in existing operations to be maximized in new ways we hadn’t conceived previously. This benefits both sectors and advances a new technology that has tremendous potential for industrial applications and more.
Lithium. Another important and emerging part of the energy industry also benefits from existing oil and gas activities. As the United States has historically obtained lithium batteries from China to power electric vehicles and support stationary grid storage, current geopolitical developments have sparked intense interest in establishing domestic production of lithium-based batteries.
With the U.S. Department of Energy and Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) seeking to shore up the battery materials and our technology supply chain to support domestic manufacturing independence in this space, access to key raw materials is necessary to reduce U.S. lithium battery manufacturing dependence on foreign sources. Interestingly, emerging companies have found that producing lithium is similar to producing oil and gas. Currently, when a company drills a well, a great amount of water is produced that is injected back into the ground, once it’s separated from the oil that is obtained. The wastewater brine contains lithium, which can be extracted and used for battery production in our own backyard.
The infrastructure, technology and skillsets that power oil and gas underpin the diversification of energy inputs to enable a multi-source energy mix. Large energy companies, in partnership with energy-focused investment groups, are uniquely positioned to not only supply capital but also provide the environment to validate new technologies. Alternative energies have become a part of the business of oil and gas, and giving young companies in this sector the tools to thrive benefits us all.
With partners that include Devon, ONEOK, and Williams, we’re investing in companies dedicated to developing energy technology, including those that advance energy diversification, improve sustainability, and enhance operational efficiency of existing oil and gas assets. Capital and community are key to bringing promising new energy tools and approaches to fruition.
New methods and tools demand solid partnerships and vision that are rooted in our oil and gas industry. The importance and legacy of oil and gas must be recognized and respected, as we embark on a lower-carbon energy future that encompasses multiple types of energy. Oil and gas have been the backbone of the energy economy for more than a century, and they will remain so, as we look ahead to the next one hundred years.
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