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Legislature honors oil and gas pioneer; Mitchell, industry have Wise roots

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, May 18, 2013

When historians look back at the history of Wise County beginning in the 1950s, they will discover a major change from an economy based primarily on agriculture to a fledgling effort to bring oil and natural gas production to the county.

Many men were responsible for this movement, but the driving force was George P. Mitchell and the young exploration firm of Christie Mitchell and Mitchell. They roamed the county picking up leases from landowners eager to cash in on the dream of oil riches.

The first wells were in a formation called the Boonsville-Bend Conglomerate in south and west Wise County and were moderately successful. As time went by Mitchell Energy Corp. discovered a much-deeper source of natural gas called the Barnett Shale.

The rich supply was difficult to produce, and George Mitchell spent years developing a fracturing technique to unearth the natural gas. As the Barnett Shale field expanded into neighboring counties, Mitchell sold his company to Devon Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City for $3.5 billion.

Last week Mitchell, 93, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives not only for his engineering genius in developing the fracturing technique, but for his work in re-developing his hometown of Galveston and development of The Woodlands housing and commercial center in the Houston area.

The House resolution says Mitchell was “responsible for one of the most significant breakthroughs in the energy industry.” He was not at the ceremony but was represented by his daughter Sheridan Lorenz and Marilu Hastings, environmental program director at the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.

The award, signed by Gov. Rick Perry, is the latest in a series of awards honoring Mitchell. Earlier this year he received a History-Making Texan Award by the Texas State History Museum Foundation for his “exemplary contributions to the oil and gas industry.”

Fracturing techniques developed by Mitchell in the Barnett Shale are now being used throughout the United States in both natural gas and oil exploration.

Mitchell drilled his first Barnett Shale well in 1981 and his first horizontal well in 1997.

Devon Energy is the largest natural gas producer in the Barnett Shale.

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