George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet.

AuthorFitzgerald, Timothy
PositionBook review

George P. Mitchell: Fracking, Sustainability, and an Unorthodox Quest to Save the Planet, by Loren C. Steffy (Texas A&M University Press, Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History, 2019) 289 pages, ISBN 978-1-62349-803-0 (Cloth), ISBN 978-1-62349-804-7 (Ebook).

Economists recognize the importance of technological change but understand little about where it comes from. The suite of technologies that allow the economic exploitation of unconventional oil and gas resources, often lumped together under the umbrella of "fracking," have transformed North American and increasingly regional and global markets. One way to help understand the unconventional revolution is to see it from the perspective of an individual often credited with its creation--George P. Mitchell. Loren Steffy, a longtime Houston business reporter, stitches together a fluid and enjoyable account of Mitchell's life and career. Given Mitchell's central role in helping understand how hydraulic fracturing might change in ways that ultimately led to massive increases in well productivity, there are many delicious morsels for the student of technological change. The industry history buff will also enjoy the detailed account, which focuses more on specific contributions of Mitchell than more general accounts like Geoffrey Zuckerman's The Frackers, Russell Gold's The Boom, or Daniel Yergin's The Quest.

While some readers might be interested in other of Mitchell's varied exploits, such as the development of The Woodlands north of Houston as a model sustainable development project, the investment in reinvigorating Mitchell's native Galveston, the effort to build a superconducting supercollider in Texas, or even support for a nascent professional tour for women's tennis players, the main contribution of the book is in carefully documenting Mitchell's energy business that focused on natural gas production.

Mitchell spent more than fifty years in the oil industry, but the story of how he came to be recognized as the "father of fracking" is packed into six of the book's 26 chapters. The account is more history than hagiography, and is filled with primary accounts by Mitchell's employees like Nick Steinsberger and Kent Bowker, who contributed to the effort to demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing could help economically produce natural gas from the Barnett Shale. George Mitchell was an aging executive with wide interests rather than an obsessive tinkerer intent on demonstrating a...

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