General Electric funneling billions into new energy infrastructure

HOUSTON — A natural gas pipeline stretching 435 miles across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is just one piece of General Electric’s multibillion-dollar bid to shore up energy infrastructure in North America, where an oil and gas boom has drawn a wave of investments to new pipelines.

GE’s energy investing arm has more than $3 billion tied up in 43,500 miles of pipeline, the largest U.S. liquefied natural gas export facility and other energy transportation and storage ventures. But it has started to shift its attention to early-stage ventures as U.S. and Canadian pipeline operators collect billions for new projects that link remote shale plays to U.S. markets.

“There’s a lot of need for expansion capital, new pipeline in the ground to tap into and fully exploit the various shale regions,” Jim Burgoyne, managing director of GE’s natural resources group, said in a recent interview with FuelFix. “It’s fertile ground because there is so much development going on.”

Pipeline boom

Equity investments are playing a bigger role in Mexico, as well, where GE expects demand for energy to rise as the country overhauls its energy policy, which has long kept a closed door to outside companies. The move is expected to stimulate a need for infrastructure and power plants and supply from foreign investors. Overall, he said, the midstream sector, which includes pipeline and energy storage, has grown tenfold over the past few years.

U.S. pipeline operators like Houston-based Kinder Morgan have boosted their capital spending from about $7 billion in 2006 to $26 billion last year, and their combined market capitalization has tripled its share of the value within the U.S. oil and gas industry. They are expected to spend $200 billion on new North American infrastructure by 2035, according to Deloitte.

Age of gas

“GE as a company is very focused on what we call the age of gas, the need to build out gas networks,” Burgoyne said. But the “age of gas” will require more than just pipelines, he said.

Fairfield, Conn.-based GE is also trying to expand the role of natural gas in the nation’s economy by investing in gas-powered locomotives, drilling rigs, trucks, mining operations and marine equipment. Natural gas-powered drilling rigs, to take one example, offer energy companies sizable cost savings through their portable and more environmentally friendly generators, he said.

“We think that’s a very interesting area that’s going to open up a whole new area in midstream investing,” Burgoyne said.