American energy development has a long history, going back well into the 19th century. Our industry is also associated with older movies like 1956’s Giant and older equipment like the counterbalanced pump jack, which goes back to 1925.
It’s great to have a colorful history — and to play such a central role in the story of America. But the problem is that too many people have the misperception that we are stuck in our ways, that we look back instead of ahead. Nothing could be further from the truth.
America’s Energy Leadership Is Driven by Innovation
Not that many years ago, the United States imported most of its energy. We had ceded our energy leadership to other nations — and become dependent on foreign oil. This dependency made our economy and our security vulnerable. But one risk-taking innovator, Texan George P. Mitchell, changed everything by vastly improving the decades-old process of hydraulic fracturing. Just as Thomas Edison improved — but did not invent — the lightbulb to make it commercially viable, Mitchell made extracting shale oil and gas economical. It took dozens of trials and cost tens of millions of dollars before Mitchell succeeded in 1998.
Today, the combination of fracing and horizontal drilling has made the U.S. the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas. Energy innovation has unlocked enormous economic value and created millions of jobs. America’s oil and natural gas sector is an innovation industry.
Innovation Never Ends
The energy industry continues to invest in innovation to improve operations and minimize environmental impacts.
Innovative uses of data and information technologies are helping to pinpoint oil and natural gas resources and reduce operational downtime. Engineering innovations have helped reduce methane emissions, which means more energy can be captured and less gas enters our atmosphere. Investments in innovation have also improved safety, onshore and offshore. Mitchell passed away in 2013 at the age of 94, but innovations in fracing have continued. For example, in recent years, energy companies and independent innovators have pursued ways to recycle and reuse fracing fluid. New filtration systems are enabling water used in energy development to be reused for agriculture and returned to the water cycle.
In La Porte, Texas, an innovative zero-emission natural gas power plant is now under construction. This demonstration plant will generate electricity without any emissions, including carbon dioxide. The plant will have a small footprint and use very little water. This project demonstrates that natural gas and energy innovation are helping our environment, despite what you might hear from anti-energy activists.
Every member of the energy industry should seize every opportunity to share examples of our industry’s innovation with friends, family, neighbors … and government officials. We need to stand up for American oil and natural gas and be proactive champions for the work that we do.
Energy Nation, our industry’s workforce advocacy program, provides energy employees with opportunities to raise their voices and help paint a more accurate picture of our industry. Yes, our industry goes back many years, but we also operate on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
To learn more about Energy Nation and its mission, visit www.energynation.org.
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