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By Jim Fuquay, Star-Telegram, May 14, 2013

Texas House honors Barnett Shale pioneer George Mitchell

George P. Mitchell, the Houston-area oilman whose efforts to combine hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling led to the development of North Texas’ Barnett Shale and launched a nationwide boom in shale production, was honored Monday by the Texas House.

The House resolution says Mitchell was “responsible for one of the most significant breakthroughs in the energy industry.” Mitchell, who turns 94 next month, was not present but was represented at the event by his daughter, Sheridan Lorenz, and by Marilu Hastings, environment program director at the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

According to a statement from the foundation, Lorenz encouraged the state leadership to “redouble its efforts to position Texas to lead the transition to a clean energy economy by modernizing existing oil and gas regulations to better manage advanced drilling technologies, to continue expanding renewable energy markets and to create incentives to use energy more efficiently.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the resolution Friday, made a rare appearance on the House floor for the ceremony.

In February, Mitchell was honored with a History-Making Texan Award by the Texas State History Museum Foundation “in tribute to his exemplary contributions to the oil and gas industry.” The House resolution also recognizes Mitchell’s historic preservation work and his development of The Woodlands, north of Houston.

The production techniques that Mitchell’s company, Mitchell Energy, pioneered in the Barnett Shale have spawned a rush of shale oil and gas production that has reversed a decades-long decline in U.S. output. While shale production is seemingly an overnight success, Mitchell worked for years to find the right combination that would make the dense rock give up its oil and gas in economic quantities.

In 2008, at a Fort Worth event honoring his achievements, Mitchell told the Star-Telegram that success was not guaranteed.

“Even my engineers told me, ‘You’re wasting your money, Mitchell.’ Finally we figured out you had to fracture it considerably to make it produce,” Mitchell said then. “It took about seven wells that cost a couple of million each and a lot of experiments to figure out how to make it work.”

He drilled his first Barnett Shale well in 1981. He drilled his first horizontal Barnett well in 1997. By 2001, Mitchell’s efforts in the field were established enough to draw a $3.5 billion buyout offer from Devon Energy of Oklahoma City.

Devon acquired Mitchell Energy, whose Barnett holdings are still based in Bridgeport in Wise County, and remains the field’s largest oil and gas producer.