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NETL History Cover

Over the past century, fossil energy research and technology development has been advanced by NETL and its predecessor facilities as the energy needs of the nation have grown and evolved.

1910 – Congress passes the Organic Act, authorizing the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to “increase health, safety, economy, and efficiency in the mining, quarrying, metallurgical, and miscellaneous mineral industries of the country.”

1918 - Following new discoveries of oil in Oklahoma and Texas, the Petroleum Experiment Station is established in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, as one of 17 DOI Bureau of Mines facilities under Public Law 283 (63rd Congress, 1915). The Station pursues systematic application of engineering and scientific methods to oil drilling, helping the early “boom and bust” oil industry create operating and safety standards.

1919 - The Bureau of Mines opens the Pittsburgh Experiment Station in the city’s Oakland section (now the site of Carnegie Mellon University’s Hamburg Hall). The station includes offices for mining, mine safety and explosives, as well as laboratories for metallurgy, fuels, chemical and electrical investigations.

1936 – With the enactment of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, the Works Progress Administration erects new station facilities and research activity expands. The Bartlesville Station evolves from a field demonstration center to a research laboratory with its own scholarly publication and achievement record. By the end of World War II, the Station has specialized expertise in oil field engineering studies, thermodynamics of petroleum compounds, and characterization of fuels and products.

1946 – World War II sparks national interest in synthetic fuels production, leading to the Synthetic Liquid Fuels Act of 1944. Under the Act, the Synthesis Gas Branch Experiment Station begins government-sponsored coal-gasification research at West Virginia University facilities in Morgantown, West Virginia. Administered by the DOI Bureau of Mines, the 17-employee Station is charged with developing processes to produce synthesis gas from coal.

1948 – The Synthetic Liquid Fuels Act (1944) authorizes the creation of energy research laboratories, resulting in the establishment of the Bruceton Research Center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. More than 300 coal scientists work in the center’s newly created laboratories and pilot plants.

1954 – The Appalachian Experiment Station for on-site coal research starts up at the current Morgantown location. The Station is created by consolidation of three DOI groups: the WVU Synthesis Gas Branch Experiment Station; a petroleum and natural gas recovery research group located in Franklin, Pennsylvania, since 1942; and a safety inspections group, located in Fairmont, West Virginia, since 1946. Morgantown staff now consists of 109 employees.

1975 - The new U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration incorporates the former DOI sites as the Bartlesville Energy Research Center, the Morgantown Energy Research Center, and the Pittsburgh Energy Research Center. The Centers begin overseeing federally funded contracts for fossil energy research and development. Research areas include development of advanced methods for cleaning coal and combustion gases, alternative methods to substitute coal for imported oil, and enhanced oil recovery to produce more domestic oil.

1977 – Under the newly established U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the three sites become Bartlesville Energy Technology Center (BETC), Morgantown Energy Technology Center (METC), and Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center (PETC). The Centers’ responsibilities include on-site research in coal, oil, and gas technologies as well as management of millions of dollars in contracts for research and development conducted by universities, industry and other research institutions.

1983 – Under a cooperative agreement, the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research (NIPER) is founded when DOE transfers operation of the Bartlesville research facility to IIT Research Institute, a private organization based in Chicago. At the same time, DOE establishes the Bartlesville Project Office to oversee NIPER’s petroleum research activities.

1993 - DOE selects BDM-Oklahoma Inc. to take over operation of the Bartlesville facility and to oversee a national field demonstration effort. BDM focuses its efforts on exploration and drilling, reservoir characterization and assessment, and improved recovery methods. In conjunction, the University of Tulsa wins a five-year contract as principal subcontractor to BDM to carry out an aggressive technology-transfer program focused on independent producers.

1996 - The Federal Energy Technology Center (FETC) is launched through the unification of METC (Morgantown) and PETC (Pittsburgh). Although the sites are 65 miles apart, communications technology makes feasible a seamless organization. FETC strengthens existing partnerships with industry, academia and other government organizations, and forges new ones, reinforcing its role as a catalyst for moving advanced energy and environmental technologies into the marketplace.

1998 - To align more strategically with national energy objectives, DOE opens the National Petroleum Technology Office (NPTO) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and closes the Bartlesville Project Office. NPTO shares facilities with DOE’s Southwestern Power Administration. The transition strengthens NPTO’s contacts with oil and service companies in Tulsa and helps promote the development of technology and information needed to sustain a vital energy industry.

1999 – The Secretary of Energy designates FETC as DOE’s 15th national laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), signaling the importance of fossil fuels to the global energy economy. The Secretary also creates the Strategic Center for Natural Gas at NETL.

2000 – NPTO joins NETL, elevating DOE’s petroleum research program to national status and streamlining the process of technology development to benefit the nation’s domestic producers. Coordination between the petroleum technology program and the laboratory structure strengthens collaboration and technology exchange between oil exploration and production efforts in Tulsa and natural gas research in Morgantown and Pittsburgh. Combined, the sites employ more than 1,100 federal employees.

2001 - Following the 2000 transfer of the NIPER site to the Bartlesville Development Corporation, DOE transfers the NIPER property to the City of Bartlesville. The Bartlesville Development Corporation markets the facility to outside businesses as part of local economic development efforts. The Delaware Indian Tribal Headquarters set up offices at the site.

2001 - NETL opens the Alaska Office with a two-part mission to promote research, development, and deployment of: 1) oil recovery, gas-to-liquids, and natural gas production and transportation and, 2) electric power in arctic climates, including fossil, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, and small hydroelectric facilities.

2005 - The Albany Research Center (ARC) in Albany, Oregon, is realigned by DOE and incorporated under NETL management. This realignment broadens the NETL material science capability.