Most informed parties give George Mitchell, Mitchell Energy, as the "Father of fracking," and that is generally true.  But where did he get his ideas?  Two articles are informative:

I knew that Sandia lab in Albuquerque had played a significant role in perfecting the diamond-imbedded drill bit, but I didn't know that the lab had played a major role in perfecting fracking.  Our tax dollars, along with industry support, at work.

It is ironic that the Governor of NY has prohibited fracking in his state, and also opposes new NG pipelines.  But he also opposes nuclear energy, and proudly announced that NY's final nuclear power plant would be closing seven years earlier than expected.  Why is it closing?  Because shale gas is now so plentiful, that nuclear power can't economically compete with NG fired power plants.  He didn't mention that when he announced the early closing of the nuke plant.

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The government underwrites a good bit of research that the private sector can not or will not fund.

Steve, I can't use your first link.  Here is what I get plus a cut-and-paste of the George Mitchell bio.


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George Mitchell

b. 1919
He fracked until it paid off.

By Jon Gertner

In the gas industry, an exploration area tends to be described as a “play.” In 1981, George Mitchell, one of the most powerful natural-gas barons in Texas, began to look for a play in an unlikely place: the Barnett Shale, a thick layer of rock, thousands of square miles in area, located deep under the land around Fort Worth. For years, oil and gas companies had succeeded in bringing up fuel from above and below the shale. Mitchell decided to drill into the shale and fracture it with highly pressurized fluids, freeing natural gas to be drawn to the surface. “We had people who told us we were nuts,” Dan Steward, a geologist who helped manage the Barnett project, recalls. “But for George Mitchell” — whose North Texas wells were drying up — “this was survival, this was need.”

Mitchell did not invent hydraulic fracturing, or fracking; it was first tried in the late 1940s and helped along by Department of Energy research in the 1970s. Before Mitchell, however, fracking had not been used commercially to free natural gas from shale. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Mitchell Energy drilled well after well, many of whose sites were determined personally by Mitchell, an expert geologist who dropped by his company’s engineering department daily to check for good news. For 15 years, the company struggled to show that its fracking could produce reliable and economical gas. At one point in the late 1990s, his son Todd recalls, Mitchell expressed incredulity that a few upstarts in Silicon Valley could write a software program and sell their company for a billion dollars. That was nearly the value of Mitchell Energy at the time, a company with some 2,000 employees, vast land holdings — and an uncertain future.


In 1997, one of Mitchell’s shale gas wells, aided by the injection of a water, sand and chemical mixture (rather than more expensive foams and gels), established that fracking could prove financially viable over the long term. Not long after, Mitchell sold his company for $3.5 billion. By then, fracking was on its way to resurrecting America’s oil-and-gas industry. New horizontal drilling techniques made shale gas wells even more productive, and by 2012, shale gas accounted for about 35 percent of the country’s natural-gas production. Daniel Yergin, the oil-industry analyst and historian, says Mitchell’s fracking technique is so far “the most important, and the biggest, energy innovation of this century.” It is also the most environmentally controversial.

Is the measure of an innovator marked by surpassing technological ingenuity, or by unswerving determination? Surely Mitchell had some of the former, but more of the latter. Through 15 years of failure, he ignored the supposed wisdom of the crowd. “In science, you have to be very aware of consensus,” says Steward, the former Mitchell Energy manager. “It’s based on people’s theories and models at the time. And sometimes it’s damn wrong. And in this case it was damn wrong.” In the end, Mitchell proved that there is no innovative force quite so powerful as the problem-solver able to balance the world’s disbelief with a resolute belief in himself.


i will try a cut and paste

Thanks.  In the meantime, here is a little more detailed background.

New Investigation Finds Decades of Government Funding Behind Shale ... 

December 20, 2011 | Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Alex Trembath, and Jesse Jenkins


The technological revolution allowing for the cheap extraction of natural gas from shale occurred thanks to more than three decades of government subsidies for research, demonstration, and production, a new Breakthrough Institute investigation finds.

Both directly and indirectly, the government was behind the critical moments and tools in the shale gas revolution - massive hydraulic fracking (MHF), 3-D mapping, horizontal drilling, and horizontal wells.

"I'm conservative as hell," Dan Steward, the former Mitchell Energy geologist whose company pio.... But when asked about the role of government, Steward told us, "They did a hell of a lot of work, and I can't give them enough credit for that. [The Department of Energy] started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE's involvement."

Steward said the government directly or indirectly supported Mitchell energy every step of the way. "[The government] helped us to evaluate how much gas was there and evaluate its critical properties," he explained. "They helped us with our first horizontal well. They helped us with pressure build-ups. And we worked with them on crack mapping."

While Jimmy Carter is often pointed to as the President who initiated the energy push in response to the oil crises of the early seventies, it was Republican President Gerald Ford who began a concerted federal effort to seek "unconventional" natural gas in response to shortages. "The DOE's [1976] Eastern Gas Shales Project [in the Appalachia basin] determined there was a hell of a lot of gas in shales," explained Steward. "Mitchell was interested in Barnett [shale] and his geophysicist said, 'It looks similar to the Devonian [shale], and the government's already done all this work on the Devonian.'"

"Mitchell raided the EGSP [Eastern Gas Shales Project] folks for help," Penn State geologist Terry Engelder told us, "and EGSP support came from that 10-fold ramp up of DOE" in the mid-seventies.

Engelder, who was just named one of the Top Global 100 Thinkers 2011 by Foreign Policy, conducted government-funded research in the late seventies documenting the behavior of underground fracturing -- research that was then picked up by Shell, which worked with Engelder to successful tap the Antrim shale in Michigan in the mid-1980s. "Funding from the Federal Government had a huge impact on the evolution of the industry," Engelder said in an email, "but there was no instant gratification in this funding. The length of time from the Ford-Carter ramp up of DOE funding in, say 1975, and the Marcellus breakout in 2008 (let's do a little math) was 33 years."

Taxpayer investments went well beyond basic research. Consider:

Massive hydraulic fracking (MHF) was first demonstrated by DOE in 1977. Mitchell received his 'slickwater' (or 'light sand') fracking technology from another oil company, Union Pacific Resources, which had adapted it from MHF.

  • In 1986, the Department of Energy partnered with industry in Wayne County, WV, to achieve the first multi-fracture, air-drilled, horizontal Devonian shale well.
  • In 1991, DOE and the Gas Research Institute, funded by a surcharge on gas, helped pay for Mitchell's first horizontal well -- a breakthrough technology that allowed gas to be absorbed from multiple fractures in the shale.
  • In 1991, DOE provided micro-seismic (3D) mapping assistance through scientists with Sandia National Laboratory, allowing Mitchell to determine the location of the shale fractures.
  • Twenty years (1980 - 2002) of federal tax credit subsidies (US Code Section 29) and different price supports provided strong taxpayer incentives for Mitchell's explorations. "The tax credits helped," Steward said, "as did the different pricing scenarios for newly discovered gas.

Steward emphasized the critical role played by government mapping technologies, in particular "micro-seismic mapping," which was first developed by the DOE to anticipate mine failure. "Frack mapping," as it is called in the industry, puts seismic tools into wells near where fracking is taking place, allowing geologists like Steward to understand where the gas fractures were. "The microseismic frack mapping was being done out of Sandia labs," Steward explained. "There was a brilliant engineer there. I was extremely impressed with him."

By 2000, Mitchell had proven they could cost-effectively frack shale for gas, and in 2002, Mitchell Energy was sold to Devon Energy for $3.5 billion.

The investigation found myriad fascinating details of how government-funded scientists, geologists, computer modelers, engineers, and bureaucrats made the shale gas revolution possible:

  • Government support for unconventional gas dates back to Bureau of Mines' support for pulling natural gas from coal mines to reduce the risk of explosion in coal mines, resulting in the rise of coal-bed methane, a major source of natural gas.
  • The U.S. for years funded radically experimental efforts, including large explosions underground, that were too expensive and risky for private firms to do.
  • For decades DOE supported better drilling technologies, including better drill bits, which better protect the integrity of the rock formations, allowing for greater gas extraction.

The ability to cheaply extract gas from shale rock has transformed the global energy outlook. Shale gas doubles the amount of U.S. natural gas reserves, and may soon turn the U.S. into a net gas exporter -- a dramatic turnabout from the gas shortage just a decade ago. Today there is reason to believe that China, Europe and South Africa may be able to tap significant quantities of gas.

At the end of the interview we asked Steward -- a self-identified conservative who told Breakthrough that "Reagan did a world of good for the gas business" -- what he thought of the recent criticisms of government support for advanced energy technologies.

"I don't bad mouth government involvement in solar and wind because we have to be experimenting with that," Steward said. "We're not far enough along for solar and wind to provide much energy. But government has to be looking down the road. Industry doesn't look as far down the road as the government should. And politicians are often looking for their next election."



Good article.  The Sandia article focuses on the mapping., but also discusses diamond imbedded drill bits.  Trying again

Success.  Thanks, Steve.

Steve kudos for both links as the two articles were VERY informative for a non-industry type such as myself, TY much I owe ya one amigo.
very welcome
History lesson on R&D
Up until the late 1980's the price of natural gas never made it very unprofitable for exploration companies to spend the money on drilling wells that contain only NG. It was only good for bringing the oil up to the surface. If no pipeline was near it was simply flared.
Federal agencies did the research since they do not have a profit motive. Private oil and gas companies only became interested when NG liquids and by products became profitable and gathering systems and pipelines were constructed.
Still today, the preference in the industry as dictated by price and transportation costs is oil and gas condensate over dry gas.
See table of historic NG prices.


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