Google always makes for good headlines. What’s next for the company that has fundamentally changed the way we learn, work and communicate?
This week, it made news in Houston. Oil and gas is squarely on its radar.
The company’s new oil, gas and energy unit — part of its broader Google Cloud division — has partnered with Houston energy investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. as the region’s energy sector undergoes its most significant transformation since the shale revolution. Slow at first to the digital game, oil and gas producers are now adopting new technologies faster than ever.
Google wants in on that. It’s looking to sell its cloud computing and data analytics services to both established oil and gas companies and startups developing novel ways to make energy production cleaner and more efficient.
The partnership is yet another indication that oil and gas companies, under pressure to make immediate gains in profits and longer-term investments in renewables, are taking emerging technologies more seriously. It’s also an indication that Houston, which has had difficulty shaking its reputation as a home base for stodgy industries, is more tech-friendly than the rest of the world might recognize.
Evidence of that began mounting well before Google and other tech giants, including Microsoft and Amazon, began courting customers here. The city has a budding network of energy tech companies operating outside of that limelight.
For example, Agile Upstream, headquartered in Houston, is developing artificial intelligence to read complex oil and gas leases and help companies better understand the nuances of those agreements. The software company, which has roughly 40 employees, counts BP, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum among its customers.
Cemvita Factory, also based in Houston, is developing a means of processing of carbon dioxide into oxygen — essentially mimicking the photosynthesis process. The company hopes the technology could be used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, among other applications.
And Biota, a biotechnology startup with offices in California and Houston, plans to build out its presence here as it adds to its growing list of oil and gas customers. The company is developing technology to assess and improve oilfield production by analyzing bacteria that emerge from the wellhead.
In many ways, the surging interest in energy technology is a direct result of the oil bust that decimated crude prices and forced thousands of layoffs. Producers needed to become more efficient, and the engineers, scientists and geologists who lost their jobs in some cases channeled their skills to build new, cutting-edge companies.
That dynamic has significant implications for Houston, as well as the Silicon Valley companies who see energy as an emerging frontier. It’s no longer a question of whether oil and gas companies want to innovate. It’s a question of how they’re going to do it.