Halliburton’s tech chief pushes oil field innovation

HOUSTON — Greg Powers joined Halliburton in 2010 after a career in engineering and senior management. As vice president of technology for the oil field services company, Powers oversees development of new products and services, and the strategy and structure of the company’s global technology organization.

He holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Powers spoke with FuelFix about the innovation and challenges in Halliburton’s quest for new technology. Here are edited excerpts:

FuelFix: What are some of the changes you have introduced at Halliburton?

Powers: I introduced systems to standardize product development and job structures, which gave us a chance to make things uniform. It means we now have a common language — all the programs for product development use this process.

When I arrived, Halliburton was a company of technology acquisitions, and each acquisition had its own culture and processes for developing products.

The organizational differences and non-uniformity took me by surprise.

FuelFix: Why is standardization so important for a giant science lab like Halliburton?

Powers: The purpose of having this uniformity is that the process is repeatable. When you practice it, you get better. As a result, we doubled the output with the same number of people. The more uniform you are around the world, the more you can transfer people, which lets a corporation better leverage the competencies of its people.

FuelFix: Which project that you are working on especially intrigues you?

Powers: The fiber optics work is one of the most exciting things going on. We are working on downhole in situ spectroscopy, which provides real time information about the composition of a well by looking at individual molecules. Every molecule has a thumbprint — they are all essentially unique.

Instead of using a big computing device, this technology uses a little glass disk, about the size of a quarter, that has individual optical layers with filters coated to respond to particular components, like methane. Light either shines through or bounces back in direct proportion to the composition of a specific molecule.

FuelFix: How will this technology help those in the oil and gas world?

Right now, a lot of clever machines go downhole, suck a sample out of the reservoir, bring it up. Operators send it off to a lab, which measures the composition of the contents. If you are drilling out in Mozambique, you could be sending it to a lab in India, and then you have to wait for it to be sent back to Mozambique. It can cost a million dollars. It is a slow and laborious process.

Our belief is that this is going to be the equivalent of putting the entire lab down the well. People are going to know what they just drilled through, whether it is water or hydrocarbons. This is big deal stuff that will change how people think about how fast we go, how safe it is.

FuelFix: Hydraulic fracturing has revolutionized oil and gas production in the U.S., but critics say it uses too much fresh water. What are the options?

Powers: We have long been able to use seawater, and also use produced water (which comes from wells along with hydrocarbons). It’s five to ten times more salty than saltwater.

We will stop using potable water altogether as an industry in the near future. With the current technology, we can take pretty poor aquifer water, the kind that is not drinking water, much farther down in the water table. Almost every place you go, you can get that kind of water.

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