Hydraulic fracturing pioneer Mitchell recalls early skepticism

Oilman George Mitchell, a pioneer in the techniques that may give the nation access to what many now estimate is a century’s supply of natural gas, recalled early skepticism about the processes as he was honored at a scientific conference.

Mitchell, 92, appeared Thursday at the ninth annual conference of the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. He did  not speak to the audience directly. His remarks were in a video presented at a panel on natural gas shale.

“The whole landscape has changed. They kept telling us we were wasting our time, and now it has really caught fire all over the world,” said Mitchell, former CEO and founder of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. who also developed The Woodlands planned community north of Houston.

Mitchell’s company spent years developing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in North Texas’ Barnett Shale.

The combined technologies are central to producing oil and gas locked in tight rock formations that previously were inaccessible.

“The Barnett Shale became our 101 of understanding source rocks,” said speaker Dan Steward, a geologist at Republic Energy. “Because of what George Mitchell did, we have a much better understanding of how to identify the opportunities that exist in the shale.” 

The conference continues through Friday at the Omni Houston Hotel, featuring panels on energy, medicine and other disciplines.

The Thursday luncheon keynote speaker, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum, planned to discuss “the nexus between water, food and energy,” according to a company statement on Wednesday.