George Mitchell, Pioneer of Fracking, Was 94

George P. Mitchell, the son of a Greek goatherd who capped a career as one of the most prominent independent oilmen in the United States by unlocking immense natural gas and petroleum resources trapped in shale rock formations, died on Friday in Galveston, Tex. He was 94. {65785}
His family confirmed the death.
Mr. Mitchell’s role in championing new drilling and production techniques like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is credited with creating an unexpected natural gas boom in the United States. In a letter to President Obama last year, Daniel Yergin, the energy scholar and author, proposed that Mr. Mitchell be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“It is because of him that we can talk seriously about ‘energy independence,’ ” he said. (Mr. Mitchell did not receive the award.)
Mr. Mitchell combined academic training as a petroleum engineer and geologist with a gambler’s cunning to become an influential businessman worth $2 billion. He was a petroleum industry spokesman, then a persistent voice for “sustainable,” or environmentally responsible, economic growth. On 27,000 piney acres north of Houston, he built a town called The Woodlands partly to demonstrate his ideas.
The most significant chapter in his life came last. In the 1980s and ’90s, when many energy analysts foresaw only irreversible declines in hydrocarbon supplies, Mr. Mitchell got busy poking holes in Texas dirt on the hunch that they were wrong. Marshaling mostly existing technologies, he began fracturing shale rock formations in fields where he had long pumped oil and gas at shallower depths.
After 17 years of trying, Mr. Mitchell finally hit pay dirt with gushers of gas in 1998. The flow was so prodigious that a competitor thought that the announcement was a practical joke. The $6 million that Mr. Mitchell had put into the project was “surely the best development money in the history of gas,” The Economist magazine said.
The success enabled him to sell his company, the Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation, to the Devon Energy Corporation for $3.5 billion in 2001. Included in the sale were the results of years of drilling more than 10,000 wells, many of which still yielded hydrocarbons.
Fracking uses water and chemical injections to force more oil from reservoirs. Both the Gas Technology Institute, a nonprofit research organization, and the federal Energy Department worked with Mr. Mitchell, giving him technical help and some financing. He also received federal tax credits.
Techniques for hydraulic fracturing vary, but Mr. Mitchell’s involved drilling straight down, then making a 90-degree turn thousands of feet underground to penetrate shale formations horizontally. A high-pressure mix of chemical- and sand-laced water was then injected, releasing trapped gas.
Fracking and other unconventional techniques have doubled North American natural gas reserves to three quadrillion cubic feet — the rough equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil, or almost double Saudi Arabia’s crude inventory. The increase came after four decades of declines. Gas is also being economically produced in northern states like New York, which had been considered barren of commercial hydrocarbons.
The same techniques worked for oil extraction. The Oil and Gas Journal reported this April that a well that would have produced 70 barrels a day using conventional drilling can produce 700 with fracking. North Dakota’s oil boom is one result.
Environmentalists and landowners worry that the new techniques will pollute groundwater and cause other environmental problems, particularly as they are deployed in virgin territories. Industry promises that good engineering practices will curb abuses, and some independent studies support that view.
“We can frack safely if we frack sensibly,” Mr. Mitchell and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York wrote last year in an op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal. {65784}
Mr. Mitchell’s roots reached back to Greece, where his father, Savvas Paraskevopoulos, tended goats before immigrating to the United States in 1901, arriving at Ellis Island at the age of 20. He worked for railroads, and gradually moved west. When a paymaster got tired of writing his long name and threatened to fire him, Mr. Paraskevopoulos took the paymaster’s name, Mike Mitchell.
Mike Mitchell settled in Galveston, where he ran a succession of shoe-shining and pressing shops. When he saw the picture of a beautiful woman in a local Greek newspaper, he headed for Florida, where she had settled, according to family lore. He persuaded her to abandon her fiance and marry him. They lived above the shoeshine shop.
George Phydias Mitchell was born in Galveston on May 21, 1919. His mother died when he was 13, and he finished high school at 16. No college would accept him at that age so he went to another high school for a year and brushed up on math. At Texas A*M University, he scrambled for tuition money until he started selling gold-embossed stationery to students lonesome for sweethearts back home. He finished first in his class in petroleum engineering and was captain of the tennis team.
He worked for Amoco in the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana, before joining the Army Corps of Engineers and overseeing construction projects. After his discharge, he started an oil company with partners, including his brother Johnny, who strolled Houston in jungle shorts and a pith helmet. The brothers did many of their early deals at a drugstore counter.
When a Chicago bookie offered the fledgling company a deal for an area north of Fort Worth known as “the wildcatters’ graveyard,” they bit. They quickly drilled 13 successful wells, and bet everything they had to expand their holdings in the area to 300,000 acres. That became the backbone of a company that hit oil or gas on 35 to 40 percent of the 10,000 wells it drilled.
In the 1960s, Mr. Mitchell, looking to diversify, bought 66,000 acres of mostly undeveloped real estate within a 50-mile radius of Houston. In 1974 he created The Woodlands, a 27,000-acre forested development 27 miles north of Houston, helped by a $50 million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 100,000 people live there today. The Exxon Mobil corporation is building a 385-acre campus for 10,000 employees there.
Partly motivated by a desire to solve urban problems, Mr. Mitchell visited the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and the Watts section of Los Angeles when planning the project. In 1997, he sold Mitchell Energy’s stake in The Woodlands for $543 million. He said in 2001 that it had not achieved the ethnic mix for which he hoped, but recommended that it be annexed by Houston to increase diversity.
In his early 20s, Mr. Mitchell met two twin sisters, Cynthia and Pamela Woods. He first dated Pamela but married Cynthia, with whom he created the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. It has given more than $400 million to a variety of causes. Mrs. Mitchell died in 2009.
Mr. Mitchell is survived by his sister, Maria Mitchell Ballantyne; three daughters, Pamela Maguire, Meredith Dreiss and Sheridan Lorenz; seven sons, Scott, Mark, Kent, Greg, Kirk, Todd and Grant; 23 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife’s twin sister also survives him.


WHITESTONE, NY – Athanasios Kousountidis, October 28, 1934-January 7, 2022.

Top Stories


A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.


Alberto, Season’s First Named Tropical Storm, Dumps Rain on Texas and Mexico, Which Reports 3 Deaths

TAMPICO, Mexico (AP) — Tropical Storm Alberto rumbled toward northeast Mexico early Thursday as the first named storm of the season, carrying heavy rains that left three people dead but also brought hope to a region suffering under a prolonged, severe drought.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a series of deals with his Vietnamese counterpart To Lam on Thursday, during a state visit that comes as Moscow is seeking to bolster ties in Asia to offset growing international isolation over its military actions in Ukraine.

TAMPICO, Mexico (AP) — Tropical Storm Alberto rumbled toward northeast Mexico early Thursday as the first named storm of the season, carrying heavy rains that left three people dead but also brought hope to a region suffering under a prolonged, severe drought.

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — At least two people were killed and nine others injured Thursday when a train full of passengers collided head-on with another train on a test run just outside Chile's capital of Santiago.

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — With outrageous goals flying in from all angles, Euro 2024 has started with a bang.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.