The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Technology Drives Safety and Environmental Progress

Kate Wallace

Kate Wallace
Posted February 8, 2018

Energy is fundamental to advancing our society. It’s essential to building a better future. And technology is the vehicle for modern energy production.

We believe in technology and innovation. They define the 21st century natural gas and oil industry and our work to harness the energy our country uses to power past seemingly impossible challenges – in ways that are safe for our employees, our communities and the environment.  

Last April, BP discovered a breakthrough in seismic imaging that allows the company to accurately identify natural gas and oil below thousands of feet of rock. The discovery helps BP make informed exploration decisions – minimizing the environmental effects of reaching energy reserves and cutting costs for consumers.  And through modern, digital technologies like artificial intelligence, smart applications and more, companies are partnering together to increase operational efficiency and safety.  For example, Baker Hughes and TechnipFMC are partnering to develop digital applications that will help liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant operators optimize production and maintenance operations.

Digital technologies and advances in seismic imaging are just some of the many examples of ingenuity our industry is using to work smarter and safer. Through research and development, operators and refineries nationwide have transformed the industry into an influential leader in technology. 

innovation expanding opportunity

Increasing Safety 

Technological innovation helps ensure our workplace is safe for all employees, and we’re constantly finding creative ways to increase what we know about it. Why? Because the more we know, the more effectively we can identify and address safety issues before they arise.

For example, our industry invests significant time and resources in developing sophisticated communication and monitoring infrastructure that keeps our employees who move and operate equipment safe. Because of this technology, employees at centralized locations can track those working in rural locations in real time. Additionally, remote sensors help employees survey machinery, alerting them when a component needs to be replaced and decreasing the likelihood of equipment failure.

Beyond centralized communication and monitoring networks, the industry harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to physically inspect pipelines and storage facilities. Chevron, for example, is working toward the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to inspect equipment in the middle of the ocean hundreds of feet above water. This type of technology allows operators to obtain the information they need without putting employees at risk.

In addition, the industry uses devices, known as smart pigs, to travel inside pipelines without interrupting the flow of products. Equipped with scanning technology similar to that of a medical MRI, these smart pigs collect data used to analyze and detect early signs of corrosion, dents, cracks or other problems so operators can implement proactive safety measures. 

Minimizing Environmental Impact

The natural gas and oil industry is exploring new ways to power the country while minimizing our environmental impact. As we continue to grow and find new domestic sources in frontier regions, such as the Alaskan North slope, deep formations and lower permeability formations in the Rocky Mountain States, the industry is developing breakthrough technology to ensure we’re minimizing our environmental footprint throughout exploration and production.

Furthermore, the industry is investing in developing and deploying lower-emission energy sources. Since 2000, the natural gas and oil industry has spent $15 billion on nonhydrocarbon technologies – including wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal technologies. That investment is just part of the $90 billion the industry put towards zero-and low-carbon emissions technologies between 2000 and 2014.

increased investment to reduce emissions

ExxonMobil, for example, has spent approximately $8 billion on lower-emission energy sources. The company’s research includes biofuels, carbon capture and storage, energy-efficiency processes, natural gas technologies, advanced energy-saving materials and environmental life cycle assessments.

Maximizing Development

The emergence of new, advanced technologies continues to push the industry’s capability forward and increase development.

Innovations in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing  have enabled the industry to unlock vast amounts of natural gas and oil trapped in shale and other tight-rock formations. New technology also gives operators a better idea of what is going on deep below the surface, increasing precision and efficiency throughout the fracking process. Together, these advancements triggered the shale revolution and enabled the U.S. to become the world’s top producer of petroleum and natural gas.

Shell, a leader in research and development, employs 43,000 technical and engineering staff and spends $1 billion each year to transform ideas into technology that moves us forward. The Shell Technology Center in Houston employs more than 2,000 scientists and engineers innovating technology to unlock tightly trapped natural gas, catalysts to speed up chemical reactions, and opportunities to make liquefied natural gas (LNG) into a viable transportation fuel. 

Our investment in the research and the development of new technologies helps us continue to meet the world’s growing energy demands and power our lives at every level.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Wallace is an associate of research and content development for the American Petroleum Institute. Before joining API she was a researcher and policy analyst at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and worked on pollinator conservation programs and state wildlife conservation policies before entering the energy industry. Kate graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in Resource Economics, and earned her Master of Public Administration from George Mason University. She loves taking her dogs on hikes, travelling and navigating the northern Virginia/DC craft beer and wine scenes with her friends and family.