Gov. Mary Fallin and other dignitaries tour part of the new GE oil and gas research facility's laboratory Wednesday, Oct. 5, in Oklahoma City. (William W. Savage III)

While the new five-story General Electric oil and gas research facility juts into the sky above I-235 in Oklahoma City, researchers also have access to a test well dug 400 feet below.

Gov. Mary Fallin, Congressman Tom Cole (R-Moore), Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Cheyenne) and other officials toured part of the new laboratory Wednesday after a large ceremony in the modern building’s atrium.

“This is a tremendous day for Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin told the assembled crowd. “Having a global, international energy research facility [is] a big deal. And I’m glad we beat Texas.”

Indeed, the new GE center is one of only 10 General Electric research facilities in the world, and its scientists are focused on solving problems faced by the oil and gas industry, officials said.

“A large number of problems that we run into today that limit our ability to recover hydrocarbons are represented by this new, unconventional horizontal well geometry,” said Jeremy VanDam, senior production solutions project manager. “That’s why we’ve built ourselves a sub-scale version of a test well that we can put actual equipment in.”

VanDam emphasized the importance of having two wells — 60-feet deep and 400-feet deep, respectively — on site in the laboratory. He noted that the wells were built below ground in a contained environment.

The new GE oil and gas research facility's laboratory in Oklahoma City features two underground oil-and-gas test wells. (William W. Savage III)
The new GE oil and gas research facility’s laboratory in Oklahoma City features two underground oil-and-gas test wells. (William W. Savage III)

“What we are doing is building technology to help the operators that do that do it cleaner, safer, better and more efficiently,” he said.

Among other oil and gas production challenges, VanDam discussed the need to create “artificial lift” in horizontal wells, the need to capture hydrocarbons more efficiently and the need to identify well emissions.

“Our GE water business, for example, has a whole portfolio of technologies that have been developed for separating salt out of sea water,” VanDam said. “We’re applying those technologies to take the dangerous chemistries out of produced fluids, clean them up and be more socially responsible with how we handle those fluids that are produced. That’s our end. We clean things up.”

One of 120 employees at the research center currently, VanDam said technological efforts to address methane emissions from wells are two-fold.

“The first step is, let’s make sure we have a good understanding of whether we have fugitive methane emissions — or leaking gasses that we ought to be aware of,” he said. “Step number two is, what’s the most economical and beneficial way to capture and re-use those beneficially rather than wasting them and (having) the environmental concerns that go along with them.”

Company seeks to encourage STEM education

While landing GE in OKC has added dozens of high-paying jobs to the economy, its location and impact is already being felt outside of its walls, and not just by oil companies.

Mike Ming, Fallin’s former secretary of energy and the current general manager of the GE facility, spoke to Wednesday’s crowd about the new building’s fortuitous proximity to the Oklahoma School of Math and Science. A towering media board behind Ming showed a brief video of a female OSSM student from Stillwater, and Ming noted the GE Foundation’s $400,000 gift to OCAST for the support of STEM studies at the youth level.

“If that doesn’t boost your confidence in the future, I don’t know what will,” Ming said of the student’s story.

He noted a company initiative to increase the number of young women entering engineering fields.

‘Pulled us into innovation’

In all, Wednesday’s public unveiling of the new GE global facility marked the culmination of intense industry and governmental effort to bring much-ballyhooed “good jobs” to the state of Oklahoma.

It also marked a formal beginning of GE in OKC — engagement in a community new to its direct influence.

“We’ve essentially transformed ourselves into a digital-industrial company,” Ming said in his remarks. “Our chairman has really pulled us into innovation.”