Q&A

Why Nabors wants to be an early leader within the energy transition

In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, Guillermo Sierra of Nabors Industries explains how the 70-year-old company is navigating the energy transition. Photo via LinkedIn

With over 70 years of experience, Nabors Industries has established itself as one of the largest land contract drilling companies in the world, as well as a provider of offshore platform rigs in the United States and international markets. But how is the company thinking of its next decades amid the energy transition?

Considering the role Nabors is playing in the future of energy is Houston-based Guillermo Sierra's job as vice president of energy transition. In a Q&A with EnergyCapital, he explains how the company envisions its future as an energy leader and what all that entails, including sourcing new technologies — sometimes from promising startups like Sage Geosystems.

EnergyCapital: Tell me about Nabors' commitment to the energy transition. What are your responsibilities leading this initiative?

Guillermo Sierra: Understanding that no single source today consistently delivers affordable, reliable and responsible energy, Nabors sees its future innovating solutions for hydrocarbons and clean energy while removing the tradeoffs between them. “Energy Without Compromise” is the vision guiding these efforts. Ultimately, we view three critical paths for the industry and ourselves to realize this:

  • Embrace energy innovation over energy exclusion. Too often the energy transition conversation is about excluding particular sources when we should be focused on solving challenges or overcoming limitations with technology. Oil and gas provide affordable and reliable energy but we must address emissions. Renewables are a greener solution but powering society, heavy industries, and hard-to-abate sectors requires sources that are clean, scalable, and baseload-seeking. For our part, we are lowering the carbon intensity of oil and gas operations with AI-based engine management software, fuel enhancers, highline power solutions, energy storage and forthcoming hydrogen injection systems while also investing in geothermal, concentrated solar power, alternative energy storage, emissions monitoring, hydrogen, and advanced materials, to make renewables a viable solution to decarbonize the industrial and energy industries.
  • Capitalize on strengths and adjacencies. Companies should seek opportunities to apply skillsets and competencies to advance other industries in the pursuit of a sustainable future. It is easy to see how our drilling expertise is valuable to the geothermal industry. Those companies need to drill wells and use technology that’s been developed by the oil and gas industry for decades to produce heat instead of hydrocarbons. Beyond the drill bit though, companies in the broader clean energy community see tremendous strategic value in partnering with Nabors. Our robotics, remote operations, software, automation, AI, manufacturing and engineering capabilities, global customer base of some of the world’s largest companies, worldwide vendor relationships and supply chain can be used to help startups grow and scale much more quickly.
  • Collaborate to accelerate progress. The proverb is if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go deep or go far, go together. Working together and leveraging collective strengths will help us solve some of the most meaningful challenges. There’s room for us all and we need to work together to achieve emissions goals.

EC: When considering a clean tech company, what are the top qualities driving your investment decisions? How did Sage Geosystems fit what you were looking for?

GS: Traditionally, renewables have stumbled some in the power business because they are intermittent and therefore not dispatchable or reliable baseload. There are also safety, supply chain, and environmental challenges to overcome with lithium-ion batteries and the lack of circularity of panels, blades, and other equipment. Additionally, to decarbonize industrial processes, you need clean and efficient sources of heat – which have largely been nonexistent. And the broader industrials complex needs green fuels, hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel to eliminate their carbon footprint.

Therefore we believe the world needs clean, renewable, scalable, and baseload/dispatchable generation, and alternatives to today’s chemical-based energy storage. When we evaluate our investments, this is what we’re ultimately seeking.

Sage checks every one of these boxes. The company envisions producing renewable baseload power from geothermal and has novel solutions to energy storage. And unlike many geothermal companies, their approach is deployable today with off the shelf technologies.

EC: What role do you see enhanced geothermal playing in the energy transition?

GS: In my opinion, geothermal has been the gaping hole so to speak in net zero plans from companies and governments. Less than 1 percent of the earth is cooler than 1,000 degrees Celsius. Heat gradients needed are miles away while the sun is 93 million miles away. The oil and gas industry has spent decades perfecting how we drill safely and efficiently. We have near limitless energy beneath our feet and have the tools to tap it. Now we need the focus and capital of the broader energy complex.

EC: How big are your long-term aspirations for Nabors in regards to the energy transition?

GS: I believe the energy transition will represent one of the biggest reallocations of capital in human history. By some estimates, some $300 trillion is expected to spent. We want to be a leader. We want in early. We believe we have the skills, competencies, workforce, relationships, and scale to make a meaningful impact and we are taking action.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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