George Mitchell, the Father of Fracking, Dead at 94

By:  Bob Adelmann
George Mitchell, the Father of Fracking, Dead at 94

The supreme irony is that George Mitchell's discovery of "fracking" (horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale) that unleashed the energy boom has completely disproved the "sustainability meme" he promoted in his later years after he sold his company.

With determination and the ability to ignore naysayers, George Mitchell, the owner of a Fortune 500 company, Mitchell Energy & Development Company, poured himself and $6 million of his company’s money into the task of finding ways to access the natural gas he knew was underground of his property north of Houston, Texas. It took him more than 10 years to find those ways. Since 2000, his discoveries have changed the world and caused the ongoing rebalancing of the energy equation that the United States is responsible for internationally. As the Economist noted a year ago:

At the turn of the millennium America’s conventional gas fields were in decline. The country was preparing to become a significant importer.…

Shale gas was known to geologists but had never been worth extracting. As recently as 2000 hardly any of it was coming out of the ground.

Natural gas from shale, thanks to Mitchell’s discoveries, now contributes more than a third of America’s supplies of natural gas, and in 20 years is conservatively estimated to increase to more than half. The technology known as fracking — a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — is accessing natural gas and oil in the Marcellus, Haynesville, Barnett, and Utica shale beds, along with the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. It is responsible for turning North Dakota into one of the most prosperous states in the union, with reserves estimated to be more than 25 times those in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The impact of Mitchell’s efforts is difficult to comprehend. Over the last five years, America has recorded a larger decline of those dreaded greenhouse gases than any other country in the world. According to the Economist, the biggest winner is the petrochemical industry, which uses natural gas as feedstock to make chemicals such as methanol and ammonia, a vital component of fertilizer. By encouraging chemical companies to switch from using naphtha to ethane, other industries such as automakers, agriculture, household goods manufacturers, and homebuilders are able to keep their costs lower than they otherwise would be able to. The ultimate beneficiary is, of course, the American consumer.

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