Not just an energy company: Technology an increasingly important element of oil and gas

Molly Ryan, Reporter- Houston Business Journal October 18, 2013 –

The energy industry has always been filled with prospects of risk and reward. But now, oil and gas companies are not only wildcatting for the next well — they are also putting their money on the line in the lab, making risky technology investments with the prospect of big payoffs.

Traditional oilfield service companies such as Houston's Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL) are now willing to talk about the importance of dramatic technology investments.

"The easy oil is gone," said Ari Kar, Halliburton's new director of innovation. "Halliburton is now a science and technology company. We are beefing up our internal staff and capabilities, encouraging open innovation and leveraging the outside world."

Halliburton has significantly ramped up global research and development spending in recent years and opened a 215,000-square-foot technology center at its Houston headquarters in 2012

Kar is in charge of long-term technology planning at Halliburton. In the past, Halliburton and other energy companies focused a sizeable chunk of R&D on products and services that would be ready in one or two years. Now, Halliburton has fully realized the importance of investing in long-term technology prospects. Some of the technology areas Kar's group is looking into are fiber optics, telecommunications, downhole sensors, lasers and nanotechnology.

FTS International also recently told the Dallas Business Journal that it's focused on developing nanotechnologies for oil and gas recovery at its new 27,000-square-foot Corporate Technology Center in Houston, which it opened in April. However, nanotechnology, or technology involving the manipulation of tiny particles on the atomic and molecular level, is only a speck on the vast landscape of new technology areas energy companies are interested in.

"Our focus is getting better simulation and increasing (oil and gas) recovery, whether by a new product, nanotechnology or methodology," said Mahmoud Asadi, FTS' senior vice president of R&D.

Nalco Champion, a Houston-area company owned by St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab Inc. (NYSE: ECL) that focuses on developing technology solutions for upstream and downstream energy industries, also said it is investing more in new products. Nanotechnology, again, is just a small element of many larger technology solutions it is working on..

"We see a lot of (technology) challenges associated with deepwater, high pressure and high temperature," said David Horsup, vice president of research and development engineering for Nalco Champion. "Ultimately, we are aware that a solution for our customers in deepwater could involve chemistry, a monitoring package or a service element."

Energy technology is taking all types of forms. There is not one perfect solution, but a combination of solutions, and every energy company wants to be the first to discover it, Horsup said.