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Michael Ming - GE's Innovating Ideas

In its continuing efforts to power our lives, General Electric opens an oil and gas research center in downtown Oklahoma City.
Michael Ming - GE's Innovating Ideas

Michael Ming - GE's Innovating Ideas

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Show 1504: Michael Ming - GE's Innovating Ideas
Air Date: January 25, 2015



Rob McClendon: Well, founded in 1892 by Thomas Edison, General Electric has become one of the world’s most successful companies.

Michael Ming: This is happening today. This is no longer a vision about the future. It’s no longer a PowerPoint chart. This is really where the world’s going.

Rob: From its financial services to the manufacturing of a myriad of appliances, GE touches all our lives in multiple ways. But it’s the company’s continuing efforts to power our lives that is behind the opening of a new oil and gas research center in downtown Oklahoma City. Former Oklahoma energy secretary Michael Ming is heading up the venture, and I sat down with him in his temporary office overlooking the construction of the new GE facility.

Rob: So, Michael, how much has development in technology changed the global energy markets?

Ming: Well, let’s just look at last year, in 2013, the single highest year of new oil growth in U.S. history. It’s all been a technology play over the last 15 years. It’s completely altered the energy supply in North America. It will alter the energy supply for the whole globe in time. But it’s uh, it’s been a true disruptive technology revolution that’s made it all happen.

Rob: So this disruptive technology, as it seemingly opened a door to a tremendous amount of innovation, and that’s why the facility’s here in Oklahoma City, correct?

Ming: It is. And so, our location here is kind of a handful of key issues – central location’s important, but proximity to universities that have expertise in oil and gas, proximity to customers, proximity to a skilled workforce and, and a business friendly climate – so all of those. So looking out of our window we will be looking at our customers, the customers that led the technology revolution.

Rob: What can General Electric, GE, bring to the table that maybe someone else can’t? It’s one of our nation’s, one of the world’s largest companies – I’m assuming you have a lot of research capability.

Ming: Yeah, so it’s a great question. It’s at the core of why we’ve been successful in this, and we call it adjacencies, but it’s really technology adjacencies, so whether it’s technology from our aircraft business around data that comes from engines that you can use for condition-based maintenance instead of integral-based maintenance. Or it’s technology from the health care industry on how you scan and image materials. The same technology that is an MRI in a hospital is an MRI that you can use on metal or pipelines or reservoir rock or something like that. Or technology from materials, for example, that we can apply from other industries that could go into the harsh conditions to find and produce oil and gas.

Rob: And the research that’s gonna be done here and the research that’s done up in New York, how will that collaborate together?

Ming: So the lab in New York is more gonna be on the basic science side of things. OK, so you’d take a concept and prove that on paper and on a bench scale. You then take that technology, and we would take it at the bench-scale level and size it up, scale it up to a prototype, prove it in the field, and once we’ve proved the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of the technology, we would then hand it off to our business to do the design engineering and the manufacturing and the cost and things like that. So we’re, we’re kind of the in-between, between basic research and commercialization, so we call it applied research.

Rob: When the hiring here really begins, what type of workforce are you going to need?

Ming: So the hiring here has begun. So we’re up, we’re probably almost half of what we’re gonna hire now. So we’re hiring about five per month right now. About two-thirds of our hires are either master’s level or Ph.D. level researchers, OK. So they’ll be in basic oil and gas skill sets like reservoir engineering or design engineering or geoscience or things like that. But we’ll address the core competencies in oil and gas: how you drill and complete a well, how you produce oil, where you get the water to drill a well and what you do with the water when you’re done, where we could apply carbon dioxide or CO2 to well operation and then in general, how energy is used in the system – gaseous fuels, power generation, distributed power. So we’ll have expertise in all of those areas.

Rob: You take the broad lens look at workforce here. I’m assuming that you want not only a highly educated workforce but also a diverse workforce when you come in, and you’re talking about starting new things because you want variety of thought.

Ming: We do. We very much embrace diversity. Not just gender diversity, but ethnic diversity. So as of today, we’ve recruited in the United States from 12 different states. We’ve recruited from six different countries. So we have researchers here from Asia, from the Middle East, from South America. And then we have a big importance on gender diversity. We’re under 25 percent on gender diversity. We would very much like to have more females in the workforce, but that’s a challenge today. Female numbers in engineering, for example, are going the wrong direction in our eyes. And we’d like to do everything we can to reverse that trend because the broad diversity of thought here is a good thing for us.

Rob: What about location, right here in the middle of oil and gas country. How important is that?

Ming: It’s critical to what we do. So out of our vista of our windows we’re looking literally at the companies that started it all. And so being here next to the customer, walk across the street, being able to interact with the customer, hear what their problems are so we can help develop solutions for their problem, we can’t do that from afar, we have to do it up close and personal.

Rob: Now, I’m looking out your window right now at the new location. You’re right here in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City’s really become an oil and gas hub, has it not?

Ming: It is, and whereas years ago, Texas was our, or Tulsa was the oil capitol of the world and then it kind of transferred to Texas, really Houston – today, in the unconventional disruptive space for unconventional resources, Oklahoma City is really kind of emerged over the last 10 years as a hub of that activity.

Rob: And I’ve heard you say the word disruptive a couple of different times. And it sounds like you’re really embracing that there is a disruptive technology going on, and it’s a benefit. It’s not a hindrance.

Ming: It is very much a benefit. We actually had sort of an internal strategy session last month out in California, and we were talking about disruptive technologies, and the typical suspects are electric cars or mobile phones or the information age. And all of those were linear to exponential where things really caught on and exceeded all expectations. Actually, if you just take natural gas, for example, it completely matches the criteria of a disruptive technology between horizontal drilling, multistage hydraulic fracturing, seismic imaging, data capture, other technologies. We have 10 times as much natural gas as we thought we had 30 years ago, so it’s changed the dynamics in all regards. From advanced technologies now, we’re really just getting started. So we’re nowhere close to where, you know, we may be in 10 years from now from really understanding how these rocks produce, how much we can get out of the rocks, the recovery factors, as we say. We think there’s just lots of running room in that space right now.

Rob: Michael Ming, thank you so much.

Ming: All right.