Those in the know in Oklahoma's energy sector have long been familiar with General Electric's role in the industry.
Oklahoma Energy Secretary Mike Ming worked with GE while he was president of Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, his last job before becoming Gov. Mary Fallin's top energy advisory.
“They're a global company,” he said. “It's such an iconic name.”
GE's history of innovation dates back to Thomas Edison, the company's founder and one of the country's most prolific inventors.
Ming said GE has been increasing its commitment to the oil and gas industry over the past several years, armed with its strong focus on research. That commitment culminated locally in GE's April 3 announcement of its plan to build a global research center in Oklahoma City.
“This is a confirmation that Oklahoma is a center of excellence for energy in the United States,” said Michael Kehs, spokesman for Chesapeake Energy Corp.
During the April 3 announcement at the state Capitol, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the $110 million center represents the intersection of GE's long-standing commitment to technology and innovation and its focus on the oil and gas industry.
“Going all the way back to the days of Edison, this has been a company that has been about science and technology,” Immelt said. “Today we spend more than 6 percent of our industrial revenue back into research and development.
“We do a lot of applied technology in every corner of the world as part of our businesses.”
GE is involved in a number of businesses, from aviation to health care to energy.
“Technology is one of the key threads that holds us together,” Immelt said.
He said the energy industry needs technology to work in subsea oil fields, improve hydraulic fracturing techniques and transport oil around the world. GE's expertise will help.
“It's a lot of the same technology that's going to help make that happen,” he said.
Mark Little, GE's chief technology officer, said Oklahoma City gives the company access to its oil and gas customers and top science talent in a state with a strong business climate.
“That's why we're here,” he said during the Capitol announcement.
Gov. Mary Fallin said GE, one of the world's largest companies, is an iconic figure within the global economy and a number of different industries. She said the company is a world leader in advanced oil and gas technologies.
“It's exciting to have GE choose Oklahoma, which we think is the epicenter for oil and gas and unconventional resources,” Fallin said. “We have been on the cutting edge of many of the technological breakthroughs that have occurred in our nation.
“This is a big deal because GE has (eight) global research centers around the world.”
GE has grand plans for its Oklahoma City-based research center, its first that will be dedicated to one industry.
“We want our newest technology center to be a showcase for the world, for GE to bring the best technology to the oil and gas space,” he said.
Little said GE intends to partner with “great thinkers” in the industry to improve its oil and gas business.
GE Oil & Gas is the multi-business company's fastest-growing unit with revenues of more than $15 billion in 2012. Its artificial lift unit, which helps make new oil fields more efficient while making older fields productive again, employs more than 550 people in Oklahoma City.
Little said there are “hard problems” to be solved in the industry, which is why GE is establishing its eighth global research center.
“Getting resources from difficult places, higher pressures, higher temperatures, harsh environments is tough,” he said. “We need partners and we need solutions.
“We will get both.”
Taylor Shinn, Chesapeake's senior director of corporate development, said the company has been working with GE for several years, leveraging each other's expertise to help improve oil and gas industry operations.
“We pride ourselves on science and having some of the sharpest folks in the industry already, but there's always room to innovate,” he said.
Little said the Oklahoma City center will not stand alone.
It will be part of a global network of researchers at GE, which Little called the first industrial research laboratory in the U.S. and the last one still standing.
“We are a core of high-end scientists and engineers who support every GE business from health care to aviation to, of course, oil and gas. The future of energy, the future of flight, the future of transportation, the future of health care, the future of lighting. These are things our people dream about and create every day,” he said. “Our people are here for one purpose. That's to make the world a better place.
“I know with our research center here in Oklahoma, we'll transform our nation and the world's energy future,” Little said.
GE intends to hire at least 125 electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, petroleum engineers, geologists and system and software experts.
“These are high-end, high-paying jobs that will help us bring new oil and gas technology to the marketplace,” Little said.
Ming said the GE lab will lead to improved operations in the oil field, helping companies increase safety and cut costs.
“We've made so much progress and there's so much more to make,” he said.
Ming said GE's move also should help attract more talent to the energy industry.
“It should send really clear signals to students that this is a great field to be in,” he said.
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