NEW YORK —
This is the story of how technological advances drove a revolution no one in the energy industry expected. One that is just beginning.
EXPLORING ENERGY FRONTIERS
The new century brought deep concerns the world’s oil reserves were increasingly concentrated in the Middle East — and beginning to run out. Energy prices rose to record highs. Climate scientists showed that reliance on fossil fuels was causing troubling changes to the environment.
“The general belief was that the end of the oil era was at hand,” says Daniel Yergin, an energy historian and author of “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World.”
As a result, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and governments were pouring money into new companies developing alternative forms of energy that promised to supply the world’s needs without polluting.
Even oil and gas companies got in the game. BP had adopted the slogan “beyond petroleum” in 2000 and threw millions into its solar division. Shell partnered with another company to fire up a plant to convert agricultural waste into ethanol.
So strong was the lure of alternative energy that veterans of the oil patch began fleeing for startups.
In 23 years at Shell, David Aldous helped develop projections that showed a booming world population and rising energy demand. He also saw how hard it was for big oil companies to find enough oil every year to replace all they sold. He left Shell to join Range Fuels, a company that promised to turn wood chips into ethanol, in 2008.
“I felt we needed faster innovation,” he says.
THE RACE FOR NEW TECHNOLOGY
But while the national focus was on alternatives, the oil and gas industry was innovating too. New technology allowed drillers to do two crucial things: find more places where oil and gas is hidden and bring it to the surface economically.