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.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

According to Halliburton, the pump will offer an “efficient, safe, and agile solution that streamlines geothermal operations and enhances overall performance.” Photo via halliburton.com

Houston-based Halliburton has introduced a new technology that is designed specifically for geothermal energy applications.

The Summit ESP GeoESP is an advanced submersible borehole and surface pump technology GeoESP lifting pumps, which address challenges related to the transport of fluids to the surface through electric submersible pumps (ESP).

According to a news release from Halliburton, the pump will offer an “efficient, safe, and agile solution that streamlines geothermal operations and enhances overall performance.”

The inlet design minimizes power consumption, protects the pump against solids, and tackles scale formation. GeoESP lifting pumps can withstand extreme conditions with the ability to operate at temperatures up to 220°C (428°F) and can resist scale, corrosion, and abrasion.

GeoESP lifting pumps also use standard pump dimensions customized to suit various geothermal well conditions. With that, Halliburton will also offer a digital approach to geothermal well management with the Intelevat data science-driven platform to empower operators with real-time diagnostics and visualizations of “smart” field data. Halliburton states the system will improve well operations, increase production, extend system run life,reduce energy consumption, and minimize shutdowns.

“With increased global focus on low carbon energy sources, we are using our many decades of geothermal production expertise to help our customers maximize safety and improve efficiency,” Vice President of Artificial Lift Greg Schneider says in the release. “GeoESP lifting pumps build upon our current system to minimize power usage and help push the boundaries of what is possible with more complex well designs.”

Recently, more Houston-based companies have invested in geothermal technologies. GA Drilling and ZeroGeo Energy, a Swiss company specializing in renewable energy, announced a 12-megawatt Hot Dry Rock Geothermal Power Plant (Project THERMO), which is the first of several geothermal power and geothermal energy storage projects in Europe.

Additionally, Fervo Energy is exploring the potential for a geothermal energy system at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. Sage Geosystems is working on an exploratory geothermal project for the Army’s Fort Bliss post in Texas. The Bliss project is the third U.S. Department of Defense geothermal initiative in the Lone Star State.

The Department of Energy announced two major initiatives that will reach the Gulf of Texas and Louisiana in U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm's address at CERAWeek by S&P Global in March. The Department of Energy’s latest Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report are initiatives established to provide investors with information of how specific energy technologies commercialize and what challenges they each have to overcome as they scale.

"Geothermal has such enormous potential,” she previously said during her address at CERAWEEK. “If we can capture the 'heat beneath our feet,' it can be the clean, reliable, base-load scalable power for everybody from industries to households."

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