Going to see George Phydias Mitchell feels kind of like a pilgrimage. It was Mitchell who in the 1990s, as the wildcatting boss of Mitchell Energy & Development, pioneered the oil and gas drilling techniques now known as “fracking.”
So it was surprising to hear Mitchell say yesterday that he is in favor of more government regulation of fracking. “The administration is trying to tighten up controls,” he told me. “I think It’s a good idea. They should have very strict controls. The Department of Energy should do it.”
Hydraulic fracturing has been around since roughly 1950. But it was Mitchell, drilling in the Barnett Shale near Dallas and Fort Worth, who figured out that fracking could work to break natural gas free from the impermeable shale — this ultimately set in motion the boom in shale drilling that has spread across the country, and soon, the world.
So why does Mitchell think fracking needs to be controlled? “Because if they don’t do it right there could be trouble,” he says. There’s no excuse not to get it right. “There are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed properly,” he says. But, the smaller, independent drillers, “are wild.”
“It’s tough to control these independents. If they do something wrong and dangerous, they should punish them,” Mitchell says.
This should be grist for the anti-fracking forces who are paranoid that the process threatens groundwater. Mitchell assures me that most drillers are entirely responsible in their drilling and fracking activities. All of them, he says, “know how to set up a proper well and do the proper technology.”
Mitchell dismisses any concern that the costs to drillers of abiding by a barrage of fracking regulations would be egregious. After all, any extra costs associated with best practices—assuming all producers follow them—would be passed on in the price of natural gas.