George Mitchell, recognised as the man behind the US natural gas and fracking revolution, has died on Saturday at the age of 94.
The Texan billionaire, oilman and developer, one of the wealthiest people in the USA, was the first person to suggest the hydraulic fracturing technique that enables harvesting oil and gas directly from the sedimentary rock. By doing so, he essentially enabled overcoming the process of oil accumulation in pools, which is necessary for conventional drilling and requires millennia to take place.
He figured out how to drill into and then along layers of gas-laden rock, then force slurry of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into the rock to crack it open and release the hydrocarbons. Engineers after Mr Mitchell learned to adapt the process to oil-bearing rock.
In the US, this process is now a common industry practice. As large amounts of gas trapped in the layers of underground rock were suddenly made accessible, Mitchell’s discovery led to substantial drop in natural gas prices in the US, reducing energy costs for American households and businesses.
With fracking at hand, the US has become the world's largest producer of natural gas and is on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer by the end of the decade, according to the International Energy Agency.
The natural gas boom has also brought about a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and emissions of toxic chemicals such as mercury in the US by replacing coal in electric power generation.
Despite some environmentalists being dead set against fracking, pointing to the risks of water contamination or even triggering Earth quakes, fracking is still believed to spread into the whole world.
A son of a Greek immigrant, George Mitchell participated in drilling of more than 10,000 wells. 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 the 1990s.