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General News

The Greek-American Oil Barons

At this moment in time merely just knowing Greek-American history serves no real purpose. Unless it provides the basis for understanding how previous generations have directly contributed to American history and culture. This business of social and cultural exchange most certainly was never a one-way street. American society and culture has and continues to influence the entire planet let alone those who find themselves here on a permanent basis. It is not simply that modern studies on Greeks in American society ignore the literally world changing contributions of our ethnic group. This one-way vision of who influences who is applied by all academics and other public figures to all new comers to American shores.

At present assimilation is the one and only point from which serious public studies can begin. My efforts here are not some vain glorious call for minor points of accomplishment found scattered about the nation. I offer here a complete transformation in the very point of departure when considering the accomplishments of Greeks in the Western Hemisphere.

While I have thought about this needed transformation for some time it was not until I had a real world example that what many might consider my idealized orientation was given yet another real world proof.

It all started simply enough. I was switching from one YouTube video to another. I found Peter Zeihan lecturing on the future economic status of the United States and the world. As I discovered Zeihan is an American geopolitical analyst, author and public speaker. Zeihan analyzes data from a mix of geography, demographics, and global politics to understand economic trends and make predictions based squarely on that data. Zeihan, the author of four books, tours the world lecturing and advising international companies, government agencies and even the United States military.

Drawing on his 2017 book ‘The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America,’ among many other things Zeihan reports that ‘The American shale revolution does more than sever the largest of the remaining ties that bind America’s fate to the wider world. It re-industrializes the United States, accelerates the global Order’s breakdown…that will shape the next two decades.’ While Zeihan offers a much wider set of conditions for why the United States is in this process of revitalization I immediately realized what the shale oil revolution might mean to Greek-American studies.

Now to be sure, many factors compliment and factor directly into Zeihan’s overall analysis. Listening to a wide array of  Zeihan’s YouTube lectures and/or reading his various books and articles offers further real world data to his detailed analysis. Yet as I have said, what immediately caught my attention was his discussion on shale oil.

As anyone who bothers to look will immediately discover the present status of shale oil production can without exaggeration be traced back to two pioneering individuals George Mitchell and Michael Johnson—both Greek-Americans.

George Phydias Mitchell (1919-2013) is identified in any number of public sources as nothing less than ‘the founding father of the Shale revolution.’ Without question George Mitchell was a man of many parts who lived a long an extremely eventful life. All I can hope to provide here is a much abbreviated outline of his background and sustained involvement with oil and gas.  In 1940, George Mitchell graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in petroleum engineering with a special emphasis on geology.

Mitchell’s complicated career in the petroleum industry and his other considerable investments in any number of business ventures and extensive philanthropic work are too extensive to include in this brief account. We must instead focus on his petroleum interests during the 1980s and 1990s.

In this regard, the July 12, 2012 edition of The Economist reports:

‘The rise [in shale oil] has been helped along by a variety of factors…But the biggest difference was down to the efforts of one man: George Mitchell, … who saw the potential for improving a known technology, fracking, to get at the gas. Big oil and gas companies were interested in shale gas but could not make the breakthrough in fracking to get the gas to flow. Mr. Mitchell spent ten years and $6m to crack the problem (surely the best-spent development money in the history of gas). Everyone, he said, told him he was just wasting his time and money.’

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. experimented in the Barnett Shale field of Texas with a variety of different techniques of hydraulic fracturing with the aim of economically extracting the natural gas in this formation. So successful was this effort and drilling technique that it did nothing less than ignite a new gas boom in North America. This innovative method of extracting natural gas from shale rock was immediately recognized as making the United States less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

Because of George Mitchell’s technological advancement in industry fracking he is now known by many within the petroleum as the ‘pioneer of shale.’ It has even been proposed that the date of George Mitchell’s birth May 21, 1919 be considered as ‘Shale Day.’ But there is more.

Michael S. Johnson (Giannakopoulos) is a geologist known far and wide within the American petroleum industry as nothing less than an ‘oil guru.’ Born in 1926 in Maryville, Missouri, of Greek immigrant parents, Johnson’s interest in the oil business began when his family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1931, then called the oil capital of the U.S. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.Sc. degree (1947) and a M.S. degree (1949) both in geology.

Over his decades long career Johnson has been involved in some 15 oil field discoveries in North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas. Without question his single greatest achievement was in the discovery of Parshall Field in North Dakota. Johnson’s innovation made it possible to extract oil from what the Parshall oil field which today is the largest oil field, in size, in North America, and extends over four million acres with producible reserves of some fifteen billion barrels. Plainly stated it was Johnson who initiated horizontal drilling. An innovative new drilling technique which expanded upon George Mitchell oil extraction methods.

In 2009, due to his contributions to the Parshall discovery he received the Explorer of the Year Award from The American Association of Petroleum Geologists and also from The Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists.

Johnson’s ‘Obscurity to Success in the Oil Business: Discovery of Parshall Oil Field in North Dakota (2017)’ is both a personal biography and a detailed account of his discovery of the giant Parshall oil field through his technological innovations. Years ago, I wrote of a review of Johnson’s book here in the pages of the National Herald

Peter Zeihan notes that, due to our overwhelming shale oil reserves it is for Americans to totally alter their involvement in the world order as it has existed since the end of World War II. We simply no longer need foreign oil. Assimilation was never, can never be a one-way street. Mutual accommodation, if you can call it that, over time is what actually occurs.

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