DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Natural Gas Paula Gant visits GE O&G Customer Collaboration Center in Houston. (L to R - Chrissy Borskey, GE Distributed Power; Tracey Sledge, GE O&G; Paula Gant, DOE; Paul Doucette, GE O&G; Jeanette Patel, GE Canada; and Hannah Kaplan, GE Distributed Power.
When I joined the Office of Fossil Energy as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Natural Gas (ONG) this past September, three areas made an immediate impression: the office’s highly innovative research and development (R&D) portfolio; the expertise of FE staff and their collaborative, constructive relationship with industry, state, international and academic research partners; and how the mission of FE in general, and ONG in particular, is essential to developing a secure, sustainable and clean energy future.
A recent trip I took to Houston, Texas, with Brad Tomer, chief operating officer of FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), served to bolster even further my first impressions. Our itinerary included visits to the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) and RPSEA member CSI Technologies, LLC; NETL offices in Sugar Land, Texas, part of the lab’s Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil; GE’s Hydril production facility; Environmentally Friendly Drilling, which has been awarded numerous RPSEA R&D projects in recent years; and a meeting with representatives of SINOPEC – China Petrochemical Corp. – which is interested in undertaking an unconventional oil and natural gas R&D project.
The broad purpose of this trip was to meet oil and natural gas team members and get some exposure to the R&D portfolio, goals that were certainly achieved. But of equal importance were some less obvious ancillary benefits that will be of immense help to me in working with colleagues inside and outside of government to help America fully develop its oil and natural gas resources in a responsible way.
The first of these is the impressive technology itself, one example of which I saw at GE, where blowout preventers (BOPs) are engineered and produced. While the underpinning technology behind these BOPs has been built upon over 70 years, innovation helps to continually improve operational efficiency, worker safety and environmental protection in challenging operating conditions.
But this is more the rule than the exception in an industry where, for instance, technological leaps in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, many of which were pioneered years ago by FE and its research partners, are today having real-world energy supply, security and economic benefits for America and its people. Continually improving technology allows us to produce and use more domestic oil and natural gas, do it responsibly, and eventually sell these advanced processes to the world, providing additional economic benefits for the U.S. while making it possible for other nations to acquire the energy necessary to better their standard of living. This is a well-established legacy at ONG and one we are obliged to continue as part of our mission.
Secondly, there are the people. During my trip, the oil and natural gas employees I met, whether industry or government, ran the gamut, from young women engineers to senior men with years in the industry. But they all shared a common denominator: pride in what they are doing.
These are researchers and project developers who are making a real difference; their work contributes directly to our nation making progress in achieving its sometimes conflicting energy supply, security and sustainable development goals. They represent the best America has to offer – ingenuity, out-of-the-box thinking, and a dedication to overcoming the energy and environmental challenges that might cloud the future and limit our national aspirations. These individuals will make our vision a reality as they continue to develop innovative oil and natural gas technologies that will allow us to bolster energy security while protecting environmental quality.
Finally, I was struck by how the amazing technologies I saw and heard about, and the talented and dedicated people I met, all relate back to the big picture, clearly articulated by President Obama in his Climate Action Plan: “The Obama administration is partnering with states and private companies to exchange lessons learned with our international partners on responsible development of natural gas resources. We have launched the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program to share best practices on such issues as water management, methane emissions, air quality, permitting, contracting and pricing to help increase global gas supplies and facilitate development of the associated infrastructure that brings them to market.”
These remarks clearly indicate the President sees the strategic value of continuing to develop our domestic oil and natural gas resources, and they dovetail nicely with ONG’s mission and R&D portfolio. A concluding take-away from my trip is that NETL and RPSEA both have important roles to play in bringing together government and private stakeholders to perform critical R&D that might otherwise prove too expensive for industry to undertake alone. The bottom line: It was exciting to see some of this technology first-hand, meet the dynamic people making it possible, and witness everything working together toward a common goal – helping our nation and the world realize the full benefit of natural gas and oil produced responsibly for years to come.