Arik Hesseldahl

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Insight Leads $165 Million Round in Cloud-Based Energy Database Company Drilling Info

This may not surprise you, but it certainly surprised me when I read it: The U.S. is closer to being energy independent today than it has been in 20 years. Energy independence is one of those things that presidents always seem to talk about in speeches before Congress, but it never seems to happen.

The bare facts are these, according to this lengthy analysis by Bloomberg News: Since 1953, the U.S. has imported more energy-producing resources than it has exported. The main reason is that the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of domestic oil production and has always relied on imports from other countries, many of them countries in the troubled Middle East. In a political context, the phrase “energy independence” is usually associated with pie-in-the-sky notions of being free from the odious burden of foreign policy entanglements in that region.

But now, Bloomberg says, the idea is no longer so pie-in-the-sky: Last year, the U.S. produced about 81 percent of its energy, up from a recent low of 70 percent in 2005. What gives? A boost in domestic oil production, more efficient cars, stricter mileage standards, ethanol in our gasoline and a significant surge in U.S. production of natural gas. In fact, if this keeps up, the U.S. is on track to be the biggest energy producer in the world within eight years.

Does that sound like something of an opportunity? You’d better believe it. Insight Venture Partners, the New York-based venture capital and private equity firm that has in the past invested in tech properties like Twitter, Tumblr, LivingSocial and FlipBoard, is leading a massive $165 million investment in a Texas-based oil and gas database company called Drilling Info.

Essentially, what the company does is provide a lot of incredibly specialized information about where energy resources like gas and oil wells are located, what its characteristics are, how long a site is likely to be productive, and so on. The database is offered via the cloud as a software-as-service product. “It really focuses on giving energy companies the data they need to make smarter decisions about where and how they spend their production resources,” Deven Parekh, managing director at Insight, told me. The database tracks information like depletion curves — a measure of how long a well can continue producing oil — and environmental information, seismic data and so on.

Offering it as an SAAS product just makes it easier to manage and maintain. Once upon a time, database companies would send out CDs with software and data updates. Using the cloud makes it easier to keep the data current, and to save on costs.

Parekh told me that Drilling Info has about 3,000 customers in the U.S. and worldwide; and while he wouldn’t disclose its annual revenue, he said it’s in the tens of millions each year. Its customers produce about 90 percent of the oil and gas produced in the U.S. A lot of its demand is coming from companies working on so-called “unconventional exploration” for oil and gas resources, and there’s also significant international interest, too. For example, there are more companies working on methods for getting hard-to-reach oil in shale reserves.

Parekh says the moment has come for some serious investment in energy production technologies. “Everyone pays attention to all the innovation going on at Apple and Google, but what they tend not to appreciate is how much innovation is taking place in the energy industry,” he said. “We don’t talk about it every day, but there’s so much going on.”

Battery Ventures and Eastern Advisors Private Fund are also investing, and at least part of the funding round is going toward earlier shareholders. The capital will be used to expand its customer footprint, but also to possibly make some acquisitions.

Note: Initially the headline on this story said it was Index Ventures, not Insight, making the investment. I’ve since corrected it, though the initial erroneous headline is still making the rounds on Twitter. Sorry about that.

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