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George Mitchell is not the inventor of hydraulic fracturing but earned the fond title “father of fracking” after pioneering the economic extraction of shale gas. The method was first used in the late 1940s and it was further developed in the 1970s in cooperation with the Department of Energy. Before Mitchell’s innovation, however, no other company used the method to free natural gas from shale.
It was in 1981 when Mitchell, already one of the most influential businessmen in Texas, decided to explore for gas in an unlikely area. He had set his sights on the Barnett Shale, which was located deep under a thick layer of rock around Fort Worth. Previously, other oil and gas companies had already brought up fuel from above and below the shale. That time, Mitchell drilled into the shale and fractured it with highly pressurized fluids to free natural gas and draw it to the surface.
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Many of his peers thought that the decision to use fracking was a mistake. For Mitchell, however, it was a necessary risk because his wells in North Texas were drying up. Mitchell Energy struggled for 15 years to prove that producing reliable and economical gas was possible with fracking.
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It was only in 1997 that one of the company’s shale gas wells, which drilled in water, sand, and chemical mixture, finally established that fracking can be financially viable over the long term. That time, fracking was building momentum in resurrecting the nation’s oil and gas industry.
Today, credit is given to Mitchell, his perseverance amid 15 years of failure and his courage to look beyond common knowledge for the widespread commercial use of hydraulic fracturing.
Dr. Ali Ghalambor is the author, co-author, and editor of several books and more than 160 technical articles and manuals on hydraulic fracturing and related topics. For more articles about the development of the natural gas industry, visit this Facebook page.