One of America's corporate giants is putting its billions where the fracking boom is: General Electric is opening a new laboratory in Oklahoma, buying up related companies, and placing a big bet that cutting-edge science will improve profits for clients and reduce the environmental and health effects of the boom. Mark Little, a senior VP, says that even as recently as a decade ago, GE did "almost nothing" in oil and gas, but has invested more than $15 billion in the past few years. GE doesn't drill wells or produce oil or gas, but Little says the complexity of the fracking boom plays into the company strengths.
Little says the GE strategy ultimately comes down to looking at "minds and machines together"—for example, they have devices that can literally be put down into a well to give people on the surface information about exactly what's happening a mile or two below ground. "We'll get more information than ever before," he says, and that can be used to help improve production and profits, as well as monitor and reduce environmental impacts. At least one environmentalist welcomes the news as "exciting," saying it's "a positive response to legitimate public concerns about the environmental impacts" of fracking. Adds an engineering professor: "There are some real technical issues that these folks at GE might be able to make real progress on." (Read more General Electric stories.)