by Andrea Heisinger
October 20, 2015

Playing the Long Game with Oil and Gas Technology

The Houston Technology Center helps entrepreneurs and companies develop innovative disruptive technology to better the sustainability and safety of oil and gas drilling and production. Its VP and COO, Maryanne Maldonado, tells Privcap what strides are being made to lessen the environmental impact and efficiency of energy production.

The increase in oil and gas production in the U.S.—while a boon to many in the private equity sector—has also led to an increase in sustainability concerns. This is among a variety of issues being tackled by the Houston Technology Center (HTC).

HTC is the largest technology business incubator and accelerator in Texas, and works to advance the commercialization of emerging tech companies in energy, in Houston and the surrounding area.

Maryanne Maldonado, Houston Tech Center

The center’s vice president and chief operating officer, Maryanne Maldonado, highlights some of the most notable sustainability issues that she’s seeing at the moment. Air and water quality is at the forefront, she says. HTC has opened an HTC North campus and established a relationship with the Houston Advanced Research Center—a research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues—to tackle these environmental concerns. “From a sustainability view, air and water technologies are at the forefront of vitally needed advances in the next decade,” says Maldonado.

Among the new technologies being developed—mostly related to clean and sustainable energy—are smart drilling, leak detection, and energy efficiency technologies for commercial and residential buildings. Water use and reuse are also a focus of technologies being developed at HTC, says Maldonado. That “reuse” doesn’t mean the water will be safe for drinking after it’s treated, but by using methods such as electro-oxidation, water use can be maximized in applications such as at fracking operations. “It may not be as sexy as some other technologies,” says Maldonado, “but by applying technology primarily used in other industries, water can be cleaned and reused, thus providing significant cost savings in supply and transportation to the operator.”

Despite a drop in the level of drilling rigs in operation, there are still entrepreneurs and service companies forging ahead. They are producing new technologies to reduce emissions and to drill more efficiently, effectively, and with a reduced footprint on the environment.

“HTC continues to see new technologies that will make a substantial difference in the industry, and be uniquely disruptive,” says Maldonado.However, the industry must be open to how we can—through efficiencies and technology—be more environmentally responsible.” This takes a long-term approach—in line with how private equity invests—and although developing and using these new technologies may be capital-intensive at the onset, she points out that taking a proactive approach and looking 20 to 30 years down the road, huge strides are being made on environmental impact.

In addition to sustainability and safety in drilling, production is something that is also at the forefront of new technologies being developed. Continuous Internet-based training of people who work in these environments is key, Maldonado says. This includes using virtual-training environments and simulation modeling of potential hazardous situations or emergencies, “ensuring that the right people with the right credentials are in the right environment at the right time,” she adds. This can mean visual monitoring— looking for things such as an emissions cloud from a pinhole leak and then detecting what chemicals are in that emissions cloud. Maldonado says she’s seeing both public and private entities strategically investing in the companies producing these types of technologies.

Looking into the future, Maldonado sees an ongoing trend of new technologies being used  to balance the resources available, maximizing them in a way that’s profitable and cost-efficient, while being relatively easy to implement and integrate into existing systems.

“As the industry continues to focus on developing and implementing new technology, we are creating a more sustainable energy future, and we are leaving a legacy of environmental emphasis for generations to come,” she says.

The Houston Technology Center’s Maryanne Maldonado explains how it helps entrepreneurs and companies develop innovative disruptive technology to better the sustainability and safety of oil and gas drilling and production.

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