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George Mitchell, 94, the billionaire Texas oilman known as the father of fracking, died July 26 in his hometown of Galveston. Mitchell developed hydraulic fracturing, the oil and natural gas production technique that has rearranged the world’s energy production balance of power. He poured millions of dollars into restoring Galveston’s downtown historic district.
Mitchell graduated at the top of his 1940 Texas A&M class with degrees in petroleum engineering and geology. With a brother, he started an oil exploration company that sank more than 10,000 wells, mostly in the Barnett Shale oil and natural gas field near Fort Worth.
It took Mitchell nearly 20 years to develop viable fracking techniques, which force water, sand and chemicals into layers of shale, cracking the rock and releasing trapped oil and gas. Though fracking has created an energy boom in the U.S., critics are concerned about possible pollution of groundwater and air they believe is caused by the technique.
Mitchell’s fracking techniques could help “the United States, which currently imports 20 percent of its energy needs, become all but self-sufficient by 2035,” reported the International Energy Agency. The U.S. is now the world’s largest natural gas producer. “An energy renaissance in the United States is redrawing the global energy map,” according to the IEA.
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