The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Innovation 'R' Us

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted April 5, 2011

North Dakota celebrated its 60th year of oil production yesterday. On April 4, 1951, Amerada Corp. struck oil in Clarence Iverson's wheat field near Tioga, which eventually led to North Dakota becoming the 4th largest oil producing state in the country.

Over the intervening years, the process of producing oil in North Dakota and elsewhere has advanced markedly. American ingenuity and investments by the oil and natural gas industry have fueled innovations making it possible to find and produce oil and natural gas in rock formations that were deemed too difficult to locate and assess or too dense to drill a few years ago.

With today's oil and natural gas innovations:

  • The industry is using steam to melt oil as thick as a hockey puck in underground formations and coax it to the surface.
  • It is using global positioning systems to lower a drill pipe from a floating drill ship and reach a target the size of a refrigerator on the ocean floor several thousands of feet below.
  • It is using sophisticated seismic technology to find additional pockets of oil and natural gas in heavily explored rock formations, giving new life to old oil and natural gas fields.
  • It is drilling vertically for two miles into the ground and then moving the drill pipe horizontally to drill through a layer of rock only a few feet thick to enhance oil and natural gas production.
  • The industry also is working at the molecular level in refineries to produce fuels and chemicals that provide personal mobility and consumer products for people around the world.

Innovations in the oil and natural gas industry also are leading the way toward advances in transportation, renewable, and battery technologies. As Steven D. Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, said recently, "game-changing innovations in the petrochemical industry" are transforming everyday life by reducing the weight of cars to improve fuel economy; increasing the durability and efficacy of solar cells; and helping to make the thin, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that have revolutionized handheld communications devices.

Even the music business is benefiting from an oil and natural gas industry innovation. Auto-Tune, the device that makes singers sound pitch perfect, was invented by Andy Hildebrand who spent several years in the oil industry using mathematics to fine-tune seismic data.

Innovations like these occur when bright, creative people can dream, build, and hone their entrepreneurial talents in an economic climate that encourages investments in new technologies. When they are successful, they create new products, improve old ones, and help the economy grow.

The oil and natural gas industry has a long and distinguished history of finding breakthrough technologies that have enhanced the quality of life and standard of living around the globe. It should be not be deterred from making further advances through punitive taxes or other government measures that slow true progress in the development of traditional and non-traditional energy resources.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.