George P. Mitchell, Fracking Pioneer, Has Died

Categories: Biz

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TAMU
George P. Mitchell, the billionaire wildcatter behind Governor Rick Perry's "Texas Miracle," died this morning at the age of 94. His legacy, you could say, is an unconventional oil and gas revolution that utterly upended the energy calculus in this country. Where we once built liquefied natural gas import terminals, a huge surplus has prompted companies like Cheniere Energy to retrofit the Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana for export. For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. produced more oil than it imported.

And it all began in the 1950s, somewhere north of Fort Worth, an uneconomic burial ground for independent wildcatters like Mitchell. The gas was there, but the trouble was unlocking the pores and interstices trapping it. He took a gamble on a brand-new technology called hydraulic fracturing. For several decades, he kicked around the Boonsville Bend gas field and, in the process, became very wealthy. But there was a huge layer of shale rock he occasionally drilled through known as the Barnett.

His geologists detected natural gas, but the shale was impermeable. It was widely believed that it could not be fracked. Mitchell thought otherwise. Or, perhaps, he needed to believe it. His gas reserves were running low, and he was still on the hook and under contract to feed a pipeline serving Chicago. He had a hunch that the sprawling Barnett Shale could be transformed into a bonanza if only he could figure out the secret to cracking that dense rock.

He experimented with various gels and liquids in his frac mixtures. He threw millions at failed wells, even as he was running out of cash. Until, finally, he hit upon the combination -- higher horsepower engines to crack the shale, and chemically slickened water and light sand to prop the fractures open.

In 2002, Mitchell Energy merged with Devon Energy. Not only did Mitchell now have all the cash he needed to perfect his technique, he had Devon's horizontal drilling expertise. The marriage of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling exposed more of the shale to frack stimulation, releasing ever greater volumes of gas.

As gas prices began to spike in 2005, this method moved beyond the Barnett Shale, eventually to Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York and elsewhere. It's being used in the Eagle Ford shale to extract oil and in the Permian Basin, where wells once thought to be dry have been revived. Whether you believe these developments are good or bad, you have to hand it to that hardheaded Mitchell -- he might just be one of the most influential men of our time.

If you want to learn more about the guy, I suggest The Quest by Daniel Yergin.


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21 comments
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Apparently a number of people here are pretty much clueless about George Mitchell, who he was, his personality and the standards to which he held himself and others to in the course of his business.

ruddski
ruddski

This man contributed to the high-pressure probing and rape of Gaia so that wealthy people could drive SUV's and vote against Obama. His will be a cursed and bitter legacy in Eloi circles.

Charles Omana
Charles Omana

Damn straight! God don't play. Fracking is bad. Bitches gots to learn.

NewsDog
NewsDog

If you really want to learn more about some of the great Texas oil and gas pioneers drive two hours East to Kilgore and visit the East Texas Oil Field Museum on the Kilgore College campus.

fracquestions
fracquestions

While George Mitchell discovered and developed the process for fracing shale formations he also warned of the inherent dangers in fracing by less than scrupulous operators who cut corners causing major problems for human health and the environment. Unfortunately, few people listen to the guy who developed the technique and even fewer understand what he was saying about it.

Karl Haas
Karl Haas

Thank you for polluting our world and poisoning our drinking water. You will be remembered long after you are gone...

UnCoverUp_2
UnCoverUp_2

His death definitively establishes that fracking will eventually kill you. As Nancy Reagan would say: "Just say no."

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

You mean an inconvenient oil and gas revolution. 

fracquestions
fracquestions

You are welcome, idiot! I have been one of the single most aggressive opponents of fracing in Dallas since I got started on it nearly 4 years ago. Where have YOU been and what have YOU done?

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

@fracquestions Great point. He was quoted in Forbes, saying, "“There are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed properly,” he says. But, the smaller, independent drillers “are wild."

He also called BS on the idea that sound regulation of the industry will somehow stifle it. He said those costs would get passed on in the price of natural gas.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@brantley.hargrove1 @fracquestions Brantley, Mitchell did, indeed, say all of that. Unfortunately, it is not only the small wildcatters who cut corners and practice less-than-safe drilling techniques. Last year, Chesapeake suffered the loss of a rig and drilling platform on the Nomac-17 well in Oklahoma when those "experts" hit a highly pressurized pocket of gas just 900 feet below the surface. I would have expected "experts" to know what was in the ground before they started drilling.

lewbowski300
lewbowski300

Good point @michael1430 . Oh wait I forgot to use my "other" account to validate my earlier statement.

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