Our opinion: GE’s gambit

General Electric doesn’t build airplanes, but its reliable engines power many of the airliners that transport millions through the skies each year without fail.

The company doesn’t operate a railroad, but its locomotives are known around the world for their reliability and longevity.

Now, the company is getting into the oil and gas business, but has no intention of producing either commodity.

And, oil and gas producers and some environmental groups alike, are saying good things about the venture into which the nation’s sixth largest corporation has already pumped billions of dollars of capital.

GE has always been a technology company, from its roots in Thomas Edison’s laboratory, to its vast research and development enterprise today. The target of GE’s newest gambit is the shale gas industry that took a piece of technology initially developed and promoted by the federal Department of Energy and ran with it.

The resulting boom has placed America racing toward the top of the list of world energy producers, but not without environmental cost, most of which has been related to technical breakdowns in the fracturing technology that is the key to releasing all that pent up natural gas.

As a conglomerate, GE has been busily buying up small tech firms that have been working on the bits and pieces of shale gas technology and collating the individual successes.

The company knows that oil and gas producers face penalties for failed wells and drilling operations, and penalties cut into profits.

If GE can come up with processes that can reduce the chances of failures while at the same time make drilling operations more efficient and cost-effective, there could be a tidy profit in it for GE.

There are times when the profit motive pays off all around. This could be one of them.