George Mitchell, architect of US shale gas revolution, dies at 94

WASHINGTON – George Mitchell, the man widely credited with launching the US hydraulic fracturing revolution with his work in the Barnett shale of North Texas, died of natural causes at the age of 94.

A spokesperson confirmed that Mitchell passed away on Friday in Galveston, Texas. A statement said Mitchell died surrounded by his family.

The legendary Texas oilman, formerly the head of Mitchell Energy, defied doubters by applying a combination of horizontal drilling and high-volume slickwater fracturing to the Barnett, turning the field outside Fort Worth into one of the biggest gas plays in the US.

George MitchellThe technology he pioneered in the 1990s over 10 years of experimentation has turned the the US into an onshore oil-and-gas producing behemoth.

“Texas has lost a true giant and innovative leader in the oil and gas industry today,” Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman said in a statement.

“Because of Mitchell’s persistence in pursuing for years the development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in North Texas’ Barnett shale, we are today witnessing an unprecedented boom in domestic energy production and the associated economic benefits in Texas and nationwide.”

Mitchell Energy sold out to Devon Energy in 2002 for $3.5 billion; George Mitchell was the largest shareholder of the Oklahoma City-based independent.

Devon founder and executive chairman Larry Nichols called Mitchell a “true visionary and a pioneer”.

“George believed when very few others did about the potential for producing natural gas from shale,” Nichols said in a statement to Upstream. “He has been a tremendous friend to so many, including me. He will be missed.”

Mitchell’s family said his story was “quintessentially American”.

Born in 1919 in Galveston to poor Greek immigrants, Mitchell’s mother wanted him to become a doctor.

Instead, a teenage Mitchell started working in the Louisiana oilfields as a roustabout with his brother John, an engineer for Exxon. From the beginning, George was a student of oilfield operations.

Mitchell graduated top of his class from Texas A&M in 1940, completing a five-year course in petroleum engineering and geology in four years.

A professor encouraged him to set out on his own, advice he would heed following service in World War II. Mitchell would go on to become one of the most successful wildcatters in a state full of them.

He started out by forming a consulting business with his brother and another partner and began lining up drilling money.

He studied well logs late into the night, developing a keen understanding of the rich Texas geology.

He had established himself well by the time he turned his attention to the Barnett, which he knew was bursting with gas that had been inaccessible up to that point.

Industry veterans – even some within his own company – said he was a fool to even try tapping the tight gas shale.

“All the geologists and engineers told me you are wasting your time Mitchell,” he told Upstream in 2011. “I heard it for a long time, but we tried everything.”

Devon’s Nichols was one of those closely watching Mitchell’s results.

“We all had our doubts, but I know George, and I knew better than to bet against him,”Nichols told Upstream in 2011.

After millions of dollars and nearly a decade of research, the Barnett hit big. The global industry has taken note, and the scope of the revolution he started is only starting to take shape.



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