Guest Commentary: Technology leads to abundant energy

By Annell Bay

To understand the energy supply revolution our country is experiencing, look no further than the oil and gas industry’s best and brightest technical minds attending this week’s Offshore Technology Conference.needs

Many of the advancements that have led to recent discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere have emanated from right here at the annual OTC. The energy resources are out there. Our charge, as an industry, is to continue to create ways to find, develop and produce them safely and responsibly.

Without question, technology is the enabling factor that has led to the abundant onshore supply opportunities in places like the Eagle Ford shale in south Texas, the Bakken shale in North Dakota and other “unconventional” plays. Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have helped to unlock massive new supplies of oil and natural gas that previously were inaccessible.

We’re also making enormous strides offshore, as evidenced by the upward trend in the volume of new oil reserves coming from deep water since the 1990s. On the exploration side, seismic acquisition and imaging have both advanced rapidly in recent years — and with significant impact.

Consider this: In the Gulf of Mexico, technological improvements in 3-D and 4-D seismic technology have helped increase government estimates of offshore resources from 9.5 billion barrels of oil in 1987 to 48.4 billion barrels in 2011, a fivefold increase, the American Petroleum Institute noted in this year’s State of American Energy report.

A good indicator of the industry’s ongoing interest in the Gulf of Mexico was the oil and gas lease sale for the central Gulf held in March. A total of 52 energy companies submitted more than 400 bids on tracts covering 1.7 million acres. The sale drew more than $1.2 billion in high bids, building on the success of other recent sales held by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

This is an optimum time to be in the oil and gas business. We have the ability to create tens of thousands of new jobs, both within our industry and in those that support our operations, as well as make other significant, positive contributions in the communities where we operate.

However, to realize the full potential, and full benefits, of these vast new resources for the long term, we all — operators and service companies alike — must make an unwavering commitment to safe and responsible operations. We must be stellar corporate neighbors and never lose sight of the fact that we’ll be judged by our individual and collective behaviors. We’ve made great progress, but there’s still much work to be done.

We also must keep an eye to the future, and that includes recognizing that our success as an industry hinges largely on creating well-paying, long-term jobs with a focus on developing and deploying advanced technologies. To meet the challenges ahead, companies across our sector will require an abundant pool of qualified individuals, particularly those with strong foundations in science, technology, engineering and math.

To that end, it’s incumbent upon us to encourage and support programs like one under way in the Houston Independent School District, which recently announced plans to create a magnet high school dedicated to energy, petroleum and technology careers.

As an advisor to the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s Education Center, I’m pleased that our organization is involved with this and other efforts to steer students toward STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

It wasn’t long ago that America looked mainly with pessimism to our future as it related to oil and natural gas. These days, thanks to extraordinary innovation and the development and application of new technologies, the prospects are bright. I’ve been working in this business for more than 30 years, and never has the energy future of America been more promising.

Annell R. Bay is vice president of global exploration for Marathon Oil Corp.