PASSINGS: George P. Mitchell, billionaire oilman, developer and philanthropist

George P. Mitchell, 94, a billionaire Texas oilman, developer and philanthropist who is considered the father of fracking, died of natural causes Friday at his home in Galveston, his family said.

Mitchell, the son of a Greek immigrant who ran a dry cleaning business in Galveston, became one of the wealthiest men in the United States. His dogged pursuit of natural gas he and others knew was trapped in wide, thin layers of rock deep underground led to a revolution in oil and gas production in the U.S., and one that is expected to migrate around the world.

He pioneered the combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, the now-common industry process known generally as fracking. He figured out how to drill into and then along layers of gas-laden rock, then force a slurry of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into the rock to crack it open and release the hydrocarbons.

George Phydias Mitchell was born May 21, 1919, in Galveston and graduated first in his class of 1940 at Texas A&M University with degrees in petrochemical engineering and geology. He helped pay for school by running a tailoring and laundry business in College Station and selling candy and stationery to his fellow student Aggies, then in later years became the school's largest benefactor with donations topping $95 million.

Mitchell spent four years in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. Afterward, he went out on his own with a brother and a partner as a wildcatter operation.

Over his career, he participated in drilling some 10,000 wells, including more than 1,000 wildcats — wells drilled away from known fields. His company, Mitchell Energy & Development, was credited with more than 200 oil and 350 natural gas discoveries.

The firm spent nearly two decades developing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, finally finding success in North Texas' Barnett Shale formation in the 1990s. Mitchell sold his energy company in 2002 for $3.1 billion.

He spent tens of millions rebuilding his hometown of Galveston, and his Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, founded in 1979, has made more than $400 million in gifts.

 

-- Los Angeles Times wire reports

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