One thing we give a lot of thought to at ExxonMobil is technology.
After all, we are a company of scientists and engineers – more than 18,000 of them.
But while most people know ExxonMobil as a leading energy company, it’s a safe bet that a lot fewer people regard the oil and natural gas industry as high-tech leaders.
To most people, technology means consumer items like smartphones, wireless headphones, and “killer apps” – not oil and natural gas exploration and development.
The truth is that the energy sector is incredibly high-tech. We have to be. Companies like ours depend on pioneering new technologies to compete, to increase efficiency, and to open up new frontiers to supply the fuels and products that consumers need.
Drilling for oil in the United States may date back to the late 1850s, but a lot has changed since then.
Today’s energy production resembles Col. Drake’s efforts about as much as sending an email from New York to San Francisco in 2016 resembles sending a letter by steamer from one coast to the other a century and a half ago – which is to say, hardly at all.
Today our scientists and engineers use cutting-edge technologies like remote reservoir resistivity mapping, advanced seismic imaging, and extended-reach drilling to safely find and produce new sources of energy.
ExxonMobil researchers are constantly developing new catalysts to squeeze more gasoline and diesel and other valuable products consumers depend on from each barrel of oil processed in our refineries. Our researchers have also made it possible to produce lighter, but stronger, plastics to improve automotive efficiency. Through the magic of technology, ExxonMobil is even exploring how algae might be used to produce biofuels that can power our transportation sector.
These are just a handful of examples that explain why ExxonMobil was recently named one of the top 100 global innovators by Thompson Reuters. There are many, many more.
We have more than 2,200 PhD scientists on staff, and thousands more additional scientific researchers working on advanced technology in our labs and research facilities. And we invest around $1 billion annually on corporate R&D efforts. We understand that improvements in technology and innovation are central to improved corporate performance.
We also believe that technology holds the key to addressing the risks of climate change.
We have seen that promise in our own operations:
- Since 2000, we have spent more than $3.8 billion on techniques and technologies that have led to reduced emissions, increased energy efficiency, and reduced flaring of natural gas.
- We have spent more than $400 million at refining facilities over the past 15 years, and more than $200 million at chemical facilities since 2004, in support of reduced greenhouse gas emissions as part of a broad global energy management initiative.
- We have improved and expanded our use of energy-saving cogeneration facilities at manufacturing sites, spending more than $2 billion since 2001 alone.
Of course, we have ramped up our investments in producing natural gas too. When used in electric power plants, natural gas emits up to 60 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal.
As the nation’s leading producer of natural gas, we are proud of ExxonMobil’s role over the past several years in the overall drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to levels not seen in decades.
These are the sorts of investments and real-world technological advances that are making a significant difference.
Many of you are probably familiar with the well-known quote from British sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, who noted that “any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic.”
I sometimes feel that what our scientists, engineers, and researchers perform at ExxonMobil is akin to magic, though that magic of technology is really rooted in a dedication to cutting-edge science and technological innovation. In my new role at ExxonMobil – particularly as steward of ExxonMobil Perspectives – I look forward to sharing the stories of this magic in the months and years ahead.
Suzanne M. McCarron succeeded Ken Cohen as ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs on January 1.