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 last week by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state legislators.

Mitchell, who will be 94 on Tuesday (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 (see NGI, Aug. 20, 2001). Mitchell and family members remain a force in the energy business, however, with some affiliate companies funding new exploration development in the U.S. onshore.

Last year, Mitchell co-authored an opinion article in the Washington Post with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which 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 NGI, Sept. 3 2012). The duo argued for “sensibly” regulating fracking through improved drilling regulations and chemicals disclosure.

With his late wife, Cynthia, Mitchell created a foundation to provide grants for sustainability projects, including for natural gas, as well. To date, it has funded about $400 million for projects that are focused on water conservation, carbon capture and sequestration. One of the gas project’s aims is 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 meta-analysis of methane studies completed to date to better understand the wide variation in results in estimates of methane leakage rates; comprehensive analysis of the market structure, pricing and technological barriers to better integrate renewables and gas in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas system; and a collaborative and inclusive effort to modernize the regulatory scheme for oil and gas operations in Texas, which the foundation believes is needed because regulations have not kept pace with the use of advanced drilling technologies, including fracking.

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 are expected by the end of the year. The goal of the revamped drilling regulations is for Texas to become the national leader in regulating drilling, she said.

The Galveston 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 development of The Woodlands community, 32 miles north of Houston.

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