Giant. Genius. Gentleman.
Those are some of the words I heard time and again as I gathered reaction Friday to the passing of Houston energy industry icon George Mitchell.
National Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV) CEOPete Miller was one of the first to respond, and he quickly noted the Galveston native’s impact on the energy industry. To many in the industry, he was known as the “father” of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the method used to extract oil and gas from shale rock formations.
“He was a true giant of the oil business.The shale revolution we are witnessing today is really a result of his efforts and foresight,” Miller said. “He was a leader, an innovator and a wonderful gentleman.”
Allan Weatherford, president and CEO of Liberty Pipeline Services LLC in Spring, Texas, said Mitchell was a visionary who saw things in the 1960s that no one else did.
“He was definitely an iconic figure,” he said.
Mitchell would’ve turned 95 in August. He studied petroleum engineering and geology at Texas A&M University in College Station and started consulting in the oil business back in the late 1940s. In 1947, George and his brother, Johnny, made what was the first of many deals in the fast-growing oil business by investing in their first exploration venture with a rather emphatic name: Oil Drilling Inc.
Mitchell had stepped back from the limelight in recent years. But he made news in December when he called for tight regulations on the technology that he pioneered, which has fueled a renaissance in the energy space.
He told America Public Media’s Marketplace that as he looks back on his long career in oil and gas, he continues to support the use of fossil fuels. But he also said, that the folks who run independent operations tend to be “wild,” and the U.S. Department of Energy must “get tough” with them.
A wildcatter himself, Mitchell spent 17 years concocting the right cocktail of chemicals that would crack the Barnett Shale. He did it in spite of so many naysayers who never thought it would work.
In 2001, Mitchell sold his groundbreaking Mitchell Energy & Development to Devon Energy Corp. (NYSE: DVN) in a cash and stock deal worth $3.1 billion. It made Devon the second largest independent natural gas producer in the United States.
In his later years, Mitchell made headlines for his philanthropic work as much as anything. He donated $20 million to Texas A&M University in November and has been helped to transform the university into a world leader in physics and astronomy.