GE Power & Water employs more than 350 at the Trevose headquarters and labs of its $2.5 billion/annual sales, 7,500-employee Global Water and Process Technologies business, and the engineers who run the group expect more business for customers in the region (revised) as the exploitation of Marcellus Shale gas and other fuels increases, chief executive Heiner Markhoff told a group of energy scholars and GE clients at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School on Thursday.
"The shale revolution is really changing the world," Markhoff said. "We thought we'd be out of fossil fuels," but scientists now expect shale gases and oil to last for centuries. He noted that shale fuel has sparked construction of "the first new petrochemical complex in Texas in a long time," with plans for more in Virginia and wetsern Pennsylvania.
"With great opportunity comes great responsibility, too," Markhoff added, citing the large volume of chemically-treated water needed in hydraulic "fracturing" that forces fuel to the surface through deep wells. GE sees opportunity in building more efficient, less polluting water systems to support energy extraction.
Speaking on a panel, Paul Reig of the industry-funded World Water Institute said 84% of the shale gas identified in the world so far is outside North America -- China alone has twice as much as the U.S. -- but many gas sites have little useful water nearby and can't be easily exploited with today's technology. "Some wells need more sand, some need more water," added Cal Cooper, an executive at Apache Energy .
Cooper said his companies has learned to use less fresh water at wells in the Permian basin in Texas. He said used fracking water disposal costs are "one-eighth" as expensive in Texas as in Pennaylvania, due largely to the dead oil wells that can be legally used for disposal down there. Also in Texas it's easy to use local salty-water supplies instead of trucking in fresh water.