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General Electric's Billion-Dollar Fracking Bet

By Justin Loiseau – Mar 2, 2014 at 1:15PM

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General Electric Company is partnering up with Statoil ASA to clean up natural gas fracking.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey; Marcellus Shale fracking operation. 

General Electric Company (GE -0.23%) announced $10 billion of clean energy investments, and fracking is front and center. With natural gas fracking at the forefront of energy and environmental debates, here's how General Electric Company expects to win big. 

Fracking for the future
General Electric Company plans to pour $10 billion into clean energy research by 2020, paving the way for the next generation of "Ecomagination" initiatives. This cross-company business initiative has already generated a whopping $160 billion in sales since its 2005 launch, and General Electric Company expects natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to continue to play a pivotal role. 

"Ecomagination is one of our most successful cross-company business initiatives," said General Electric Company Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt in a statement. "Bold investments in Ecomagination research and development have resulted in strong returns for shareholders and improved cost and emissions savings for our customers." 

General Electric hasn't said how much of the $10 billion is headed toward fracking research specifically, but its goals are lofty. The company is partnering with Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil ASA (EQNR -1.35%) to potentially revamp water use in the fracking process.

Traditionally, hydraulic fracturing requires immense amounts of water to extract natural gas. Since 2011, nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells have guzzled 97 billion gallons of water, according to a report by the Ceres Investor Network. At current consumption rates, that means fracking sucks down as much water as around 60 cities with 50,000 residents each. 

Nearly half of all wells are in regions with high or extremely high water stress, and over a third of all wells are in areas suffering from groundwater depletion. 

Statoil ASA and General Electric are sick of being thirsty, and they're looking for a way to economically use CO2 as a replacement for H2O. The practice exists today, but Statoil ASA and GE want to create an innovative capture-use-recapture system that would cut emissions and reduce costs. 

By using gas that would otherwise be flared off, the two companies hope to change the game for fracking water use. According to GE Global Research engineer Mike Bowman, CO2 may even be a better extraction tool than our current watery ways: "The efficiency of the actual fracturing process should be the same as or close to the water process," Bowman said. "An efficiency benefit will come when the well starts producing since the CO2 that is left behind will improve the yield of hydrocarbons out of the well more than using water." 

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Battenbrook. 

It's a win-win
General Electric is smart enough not to play politics, and this latest move puts it on the side of fracking opponents and proponents alike. While environmental groups will give the thumbs-up to less water use, natural gas companies like Statoil ASA will love the opportunity to cut costs.

General Electric's Ecomagination initiative thrives on creating opportunities to reduce both expenses and environmental impact. With this latest round of R&D, General Electric Company will continue to be a corporation others can turn to for innovative initiatives.

Justin Loiseau owns shares of General Electric. The Motley Fool recommends Statoil and owns shares of General Electric. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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