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George Mitchell, Hero To The World’s Poor

Chris Wright

George P. Mitchell was the founding father of the Shale Revolution. On the occasion of his 100th birthday we asked Chris Wright, who developed some of the original hydrologic fracturing technologies and worked with George’s team on the first commercial shale gas wells, to recap Mitchell’s legacy.

George P Mitchell, the father of the Shale Revolution, 21 May 1919 – 26 July 2013

Savvas Paraskevopoulos was a goat herder in Greece who migrated to the US at age 20 in search of opportunity.  His son, George Mitchell, expanded opportunity for the whole world, most dramatically for the world’s poor.  

I only met George Mitchell once when he was around 80 years old and his resolve to crack the shale code was manifest.  My company (Pinnacle Technologies) and I had the good fortune to work with Mitchell’s team for four years testing and refining radically different hydraulic fracturing techniques.  Ultimately those new Frac techniques were combined with advances in horizontal drilling to enable massive shale gas production from the Barnett Shale that underlies Fort Worth, Texas.  

Mitchell Energy had a strong, innovative technical team of engineers and geologists who had been working for years  to unlock shale gas, most notably Nick Steinsberger, Kent Bowker and Dan Steward. They were as committed as Mitchell himself to crack the shale code and harvest the enormous natural gas resources in the Barnett Shale which rapidly became the largest natural gas producing field in the US. I don’t think that any of us at the time realized that these innovations would quickly upend the global energy landscape.

We have just hit the centenary of George Mitchell’s birth. It is hard to overstate the impact of the American Shale Revolution.  Energy consumers of the world now save over a trillion dollars annually due to lower energy costs resulting from surging US production.

In the last decade both US oil production and natural gas liquids production have more than doubled. The United States rapidly transitioned from the world’s largest importer of natural gas to one of the largest exporters. The same is true for oil as the US is now the world’s fourth largest exporter of crude oil. Lower petroleum prices enrich all consumers, but most dramatic is their impact on lower income folks for whom energy costs are significant part of their total income.

In China alone two hundred million people no longer cook with wood, dung or coal, which is among the largest sources of preventable death in the world killing an estimated three million folks annually. The rapid spread of low-cost Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) around the world replacing indoor wood burning has already saved millions of lives. The World Health Organization estimates that three million people still die annually from indoor cooking with solid biofuels, so there are millions of more lives that will saved by the continued growth in LPG and LNG exports from the United States that continue to push down global prices.

While US exports of oil, LNG, and LPG have pushed down global prices dramatically, the domestic prices of all three commodities are even lower within the US. Lower priced petroleum products and electricity in the US has led to a surge of manufacturing, petrochemicals, and other energy intensive industries in the United States. The result is strong demand for blue collar workers who are the most penalized by high energy costs.

Today blue collar wages are rising faster in the US than white collar wages, something that has not been seen for a long time. History will likely view George Mitchell in the same light as Norman Borlaug, the founding father of the Green Revolution. Both men ultimately saved millions of lives and increased the quality of life for all, most dramatically among the world’s poor.

Chris Wright was the founder and CEO of Pinnacle Technologies from 1992-2006 and later cofounded and serves as Chairman / CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services, one of the world’s leading hydraulic fracturing companies, and Liberty Resources, a shale oil & gas producer in North Dakota’s Bakken shale.