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George Mitchell Lionized by Texas Lawmakers

George P. Mitchell, whose company successfully paired horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which launched the rebirth of onshore natural gas and oil drilling in North America, was honored Monday by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state legislators.

Mitchell, who will be 94 on May 21, was unable to attend the ceremony in Austin. Daughter Sheridan Lorenz and family members, as well as representatives from Mitchell's businesses, accepted the honor in Austin.

"There is no one I know that is making a bigger difference than George Mitchell," said Perry.

State Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston, who offered the resolution, said Mitchell's "research will make the United States a net exporter of energy in the next five years." Mitchell's company drilled an estimated 10,000 wells in the onshore, including about 1,000 wildcats.

Energy industry veterans are aware of how much Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. changed the U.S. supply picture. After discovering and perfecting horizontal drilling technology in the 1980s and 1990s, Mitchell and his company honed unconventional drilling techniques in the Barnett Shale in North Texas before the company was sold to Devon Energy Corp. in 2001 for $3.1 billion. Mitchell has remained a force in the energy business, however, with some affiliate companies funding exploration in the onshore.

With his late wife, Cynthia, Mitchell created a foundation to provide grants for sustainability projects as well. To date, it has funded about $400 million for projects that are focused on water conservation, carbon capture and sequestration. It also has a natural gas sustainability project ongoing to help update regulations governed by the Railroad Commission of Texas to ensure that onshore gas drilling "can be improved and risk-minimized," said environment program director Marilu Hastings. The gas sustainability program supports several "solution-driven tactics," that include:

The collaborative gas project is incorporating work of the Aspen Foundation, six operators, three environmental groups and three academic petroleum departments, Hastings said. The recommendations, expected by the end of the year, are to go beyond those of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, now under consideration by lawmakers. The goal of the revamped drilling regulations is for Texas to become the national leader in regulating drilling, she said.

Last year, Mitchell co-authored an opinion article in the Washington Post with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that said the natural gas boom was reinvigorating the U.S. manufacturing base and reducing pollution as gas-fired power plants replaced those fired with coal (see Shale Daily, Aug. 28, 2012). The duo argued for "sensibly" regulating fracking through improved drilling regulations and chemicals disclosure.

The Galveston, TX, native, whose parents were Greek immigrants, and his late wife also have been instrumental in helping to rebuild the once mighty port city. In addition, Mitchell spearheaded The Woodlands community, 32 miles north of Houston.

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