Texas billionaire George Mitchell died at his home in Galveston Friday at age 94, according to Bloomberg. Mitchell’s innovations in natural gas drilling revolutionized the extraction practice called “fracking” in the 1990s, paving the way for the current energy boom that freed the US from dependence on foreign energy and made it a net exporter.
His use of horizontal drilling techniques tapped previously unreachable natural gas stores near Fort Worth, earning him the nickname “Father of the Barnett Shale.” The innovation is now the common practice in fracking, and made the stores in the largest formation, the Marcellus Shale underneath Pennsylvania, reachable.
“My engineers kept telling me, ‘You are wasting your money, Mitchell,” he told Forbes in 2009. “And I said, ‘Well damn it, let’s figure this thing out, because there is no question there is a tremendous source.’”
As other companies adopted Mitchell’s techniques, U.S. gas production rose 25 percent in the past decade, pushing prices to a 10-year low in April 2012. The nation now has an estimated 890 trillion cubic feet equivalent of recoverable natural gas, according to ITG Investment Research. That’s enough fuel for almost 40 years at current consumption rates.
As the same methods were applied to oil fields, crude production has more than quadrupled in places such as the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana in the past three years.
Mitchell began working in oil fields at age 17, got an engineering degree from Texas A&M and served in the Army Corps of Engineers before going into business for himself. His Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., was involved in drilling more than 10,000 wells. He first began trying to unlock the Barnett Shale natural gas stores in 1981.
There is scant evidence to back that up though and their opposition is partly because fracking has made natural gas so cheap and abundant that it threatens to undermine investment in renewable resources.
President Obama’s administration has acted, albeit cautiously, to expand fracking, saying natural gas can serve as “bridge fuel” to a renewable future.