George Mitchell was born to Greek immigrant parents in the port city of Galveston, Texas in 1919. His father herded goats in the old country and ran a series of shoeshine shops in his adopted homeland, so he grew up a child of modest means. Mitchell’sfather gained an American name after a railroad timekeeper who couldn’t pronounce Savva Paraskivopoulis decided to call him Mike Mitchell.
A star student, George Phydias Mitchell went on to earn valedictorian honors at Texas A&M before learning the oil business as an employee of Amoco. Striking out on his own in his twenties, with a group of partners, including his brother, he formed Mitchell Energy & Development Corporation.
Mitchell decided to drill into the shale and fracture it with highly pressurized fluids, freeing natural gas to be drawn to the surface. He did not invent hydraulic fracturing. The first experimental hydraulic fracturing treatment was pumped in 1947 on a gas well operated by Pan American Petroleum Corp. in the Hugoton field located in Grant County, Kansas. In March 1949, Halliburton performed the first two commercial hydraulic fracturing treatments in Stephens County, Oklahoma, and Archer County, Texas.
In his late 70s, after more than a decade of experimentation, Mitchell used the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to turn the Barnett Shale into one of the most prolific gas fields in North America. This innovative technology and success earned him the nickname Father of the Barnett Shale. Over his career, he participated in drilling some 10,000 wells, including more than 1,000 wildcats drilled away from known fields. His company, Mitchell Energy & Development, was credited with more than 200 oil and 350 natural gas discoveries.
Those drilling breakthroughs revolutionized oil and gas exploration from Pennsylvania to Poland and the Yukon Territory to Argentina. Mitchell sold his company to Devon Energy Corp. in 2002 for about $3 billion; Forbes ranked him the 239th-richest American in 2012. Although George P. Mitchell may be famous globally for pioneering fracking, he is known as a philanthropist in his hometown of Galveston, Texas. He spent tens of millions of dollars to help rebuild the city, in addition to donating to Texas A&M University at Galveston. He contributed to the development of a suburban community known as the Woodlands, while preserving 27,000 acres of East Texas forest and natural resources. Mitchell died July 26, 2013, at his home in Galveston, Texas aged 94.
(Image: DVD cover/Texas A&M)