General Electric Co. is investing billions of dollars to research and improve hydraulic fracturing, fracking, for oil and gas. GE plans to open a laboratory in Oklahoma in an attempt to make fracking more profitable for clients and reduce harmful environmental and health effects.
While the company doesn’t drill for oil or gas, senior vice president Mark Little says the boom in fracking plays to GE’s strengths. As wells are dug horizontally and very deeply in a variety of stratum across the country, each area could require completely different techniques.
"We like the oil and gas base because we see the need for resources for a long time to come,” Little said.
Until a decade ago, GE had nothing to do with the oil and gas industry. In the last few years, they’ve invested more than $15 billion.
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Many landowners have complained about health and environmental concerns associated with fracking. In Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary “Gasland” we see everything from dead farm animals to tap water that can light on fire. Nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award in 2011, Fox has since made a follow-up to the film that premiers on HBO in July.
As far as these effects go, Little said, "My own view is there things can be managed.”
He pointed out GE’s experience in the wind, solar, and nuclear power.
"I think the world needs all of these kinds of systems," he said.
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"There are some real technical issues that these folks at GE might be able to make real progress on," said Neil Donahue, a professor of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. However, GE cannot, he added, address the issue of how society should regulate fracking.
"It's up to a different level of discussion, how do we deal with this as a society," he said. "It's less obvious that GE research will reduce" the many other issues surrounding fracking, like whether some communities should ban it altogether.