Que fera l’Europe pour diminuer les prix de l’énergie ? Quelques jours après le décès de George Mitchell, le père du gaz de schiste aux Etats-Unis, revenons sur son parcours et sur les risques liés à l’exploitation de cette source d’énergie.
Mon point de vue? Abordons la question sans parti pris. Développons une analyse objective et approfondie. Il ne s’agit pas de choisir à priori entre « j’aime la planète » ou « j’aime la création d’emplois »: nous sommes très nombreux à aimer les deux…
Et les textes qui suivent donnent envie d’espérer : encourageons les chercheurs et entrepreneurs européens à innover dans de multiples directions, de manière à réduire le coût de l’énergie en Europe et améliorer notre compétitivité !
(Merci à Ella Elesse et Victoire de Clermont-Tonnerre pour nos échanges d’informations sur le sujet.)
Daniel Yergin on George Mitchell’s Shale Energy Innovations and ConcernsBy ANDREW C. REVKIN
James Estrin/The New York Times
As news spread over the weekend of the death of George P. Mitchell, the 94-year-old Texasoil man widely credited with playing a pivotal role in unlocking the shale energy era, I reached out for a reaction from Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer-winning chronicler of humanity’s fossil fuel era. (He is also vice chairman of the consulting firm IHS.)
Read below for Yergin’s “Your Dot” contribution, which includes a link to an excerpt on Mitchell and fracking from his superb book, “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.”
But first click over to the fine obituary by my colleague Doug Martin and explore a timeline of Mitchell’s accomplishments posted by his family foundation. Loren Steffy has posted a fascinating deeper dive on Mitchell at Forbes that I also recommend.
Whatever your view of the risks and rewards offered by this method of liberating fuels from “tight” rock (the full range can be heard here), Mitchell’s life is one worth studying — including his stated concerns about the need for strict regulation of this process.
Here’s Yergin’s piece:
George Mitchell was the son of a Greek goat herder. He started out after World War II with nothing except his brains and determination and a one-room office atop aHoustondrugstore. But before Mitchell was done, he launched what has proved to be the most important innovation in energy so far this century. For Mitchell, who passed away at age 94, broke the code on shale gas and launched the unconventional revolution in oil and gas. In so doing, he changedAmerica’s energy position, making it possible to actually talk aboutUnited States“energy independence.” As such, he has changed the world energy outlook in the twenty-first century and set in motion the global rebalancing of oil and gas that is now occurring.
In Chapter 16 of “The Quest,” I describe how this all came about. In the early 1980s, Mitchell read a scholarly article saying that it might be possible to extract commercial gas from shale rock. Until then, people didn’t talk about “shale gas”; if it had any name, it was “uneconomic gas.” The breakthrough did not come easily. It took a decade and a half of conviction, investment, and dogged determination. In the face of great skepticism, Mitchell refused to accept no as an answer. The head of his development team told me that Mitchell “wanted us to figure a way” to get the gas out of a formation called the Barnett Shale. “If we couldn’t, then he would hire other people who could.”
The breakthrough on hydraulic fracturing came in the late 1990s. In 2003, Devon Energy, which had acquired Mitchell’s company, yoked it to another technology, horizontal drilling, but it still took another half decade before it all really took off. The impact is now clear – both in terms of energy and environment. United Statesnatural gas production is up a third over the last decade. The country’s carbon dioxide emissions are back to the levels of the early 1990s, in large measure because moderately-priced natural gas has been taking market share away from coal in electric generation. That is a direct result of the breakthrough on shale gas.
In my observation, Mitchell was a modest man. Although he had great success in business, I recall running into him sitting in coach on flights fromWashingtontoHouston. But he was certainly a man of strong views. And he was very committed to natural gas. He would call me up sometimes to criticize me for saying something he disagreed with, although I recall being hard pressed to know what exactly what had irked him so!
He was very committed to environmental values. He created The Woodlands, a 43-square-mile planned community north of Houston, and restored historic Galveston. The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has given away more than $400 million, much of it to support water and other sustainability initiatives and scientific research. Just a few months ago, his foundation teamed up with that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to support “best practices” regulation of shale gas production.
In 2011, we gave Mitchell the first lifetime achievement award at our annual IHS CERAWeek conference. Afterwards, he wrote me, “My energy career spanned more than six decades, so I deeply appreciated being recognized as an innovator…and pioneer of shale gas.” A few months ago, I joined with others — including former Senator George Mitchell (no relation!), physicist Stephen Hawking and the president of the National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone — to nominate him for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In my letter, I wrote, “Were it not for George’s determination, we would be on course to spending $100 billion a year to import liquefied natural gas – and our oil imports would be going up and up. It is because of George that we can talk seriously about energy independence.”
Whether we achieve energy independence or get close to it is a matter of debate. But it is clear that one man’s determination – in this case George Mitchell’s – can have a very great impact and, in the process, overturn established opinion. And, in his case, it has, with all the debates, changed the way our nation thinks about energy.
Father Of The Fracking Boom Dies – George Mitchell Urged Greater Regulation Of Drilling
George Phydias Mitchell died Friday, aged 94. The billionaire oilman will be most remembered as a trailblazing wildcatter who set in motion the technological breakthroughs that have led toAmerica’s current oil and gas boom.
But just because he touched off the “fracking” revolution doesn’t mean Mitchell was a knee-jerk apostle of the practice. In perhaps his last interview in July 2012, he spoke to me about how he was in favor of more 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.”
Though hydraulic fracturing has been used widely in oil and gas drilling since the 1950s, it was Mitchell who in the 1990s first decided to use fracking to break up layers of impermeable shale rock in the Barnett formation near Fort Worth.
There was certainly no guarantee it would work. As he told my Forbes colleague Jesse Bogan in 2009, “My engineers kept telling me, ‘You are wasting your money, Mitchell.’ And I said, ‘Well damn it, let’s figure this thing out, because there is no questions there is a tremendous source bed that’s about 250 feet thick.’”
Once Mitchell proved that bountiful volumes of natural gas would flow through fracked layers of shale, the game was on. Soon EOG Resources EOG Resources combined fracking with horizontal drilling. This combined technique has enabled drillers to discover upwards of 1,000 trillion cubic feet of gas and tens of billions of barrels of oil nationwide. Hundreds of billions of dollars have since been invested to acquire, drill and frack shale formations worldwide.
When Mitchell started in the Barnett only a small percentage ofAmerica’s oil and gas wells were fracked. Today that portion has grown to more than 90%. The process, of course, involves shooting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand down wells. The water breaks the rock and the sand lodges in cracks and fissures, creating pathways for oil and gas to squeeze out.
Mitchell was the first fracking billionaire, selling Mitchell Energy & Development to Devon Energy Devon Energy for $3.5 billion in 2002. He had been the biggest shareholder ofDevon ever since, accounting for the bulk of his $2 billion fortune.
So why did Mitchell think fracking needs to be better controlled? “Because if they don’t do it right there could be trouble,” he said. There’s no excuse not to get it right. “There are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed properly,” he said. 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 said. All of them “know how to set up a proper well and do the proper technology.” But a few bad actors could ruin the entire industry. Mitchell dismissed 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.
Mitchell’s father, Savvas Paraskevopoulos, was a goat-herder inGreecewho immigrated to theU.S.in 1901 and eventually got a railroad job. As the story goes, a paymaster on the railroad got tired of writing out the Greek name, so Paraskevopoulos shed his past and adopted the paymaster’s name: Mike Mitchell. InGalveston, Mitchell, a gambler and entrepreneur, ran a shoeshine and pressing shop and soon married. George’s mother died when he was 13. After attending Texas A&M, Mitchell started working in the oilpatch with his older brother Johnny at age 17. Their first big hit came after they bit on a land deal offered by aChicagobookie in a region nearFort Worththat was called “the wildcatters’ graveyard.” They drilled 13 straight successful wells.
Even after his sale of Mitchell Exploration half a century later, Mitchell was always eager to keep some skin in the game. He continued to finance new exploration well into his 80s, backing his son Todd and geologist Joe Greenberg in drilling shale wells in the Marcellus formation of Pennsylvaniawith Alta Resources. They later partnered with Blackstone in a $1 billion deal.
But Mitchell was much more than just an oilman; he was a renaissance man, particularly devoted to the pure science of astronomy. He donated $50 million for physics and astronomy buildings at Texas A&M and $2 million more to the McDonald Observatory to search for dark energy. His pet project in his later years was the Giant Magellan Telescope, which he bankrolled to the tune of $30 million. The $700 million telescope will be located in the Atacama Desert of Chile, one of the highest and driest locations on Earth. When completed within a decade from now, it will have 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Closer to home, Mitchell was also fascinated with architecture and urban planning. In 1974 he created a master-planned community on 27,000 acres about a half-hour drive north ofHouston. The Woodlands is now home to 100,000 people; ExxonMobil is building its biggest corporate center (for 10,000 workers) just to the south. Mitchell sold his interest in the development for $500 million in 1997. His wife’s name will forever grace the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion there. Mrs. Mitchell died in 2009, from complications of Alzheimers.
Together, the Mitchells had been devoted not just to building The Woodlands, but also to the preservation of Galveston, where George grew up. Mitchell Historic Properties has acquired 22 historic buildings inGalveston over the years, including a quarter of those in the Strand District. Hurricane Ike slammedGalveston in 2008, damaging all of Mitchell’s buildings. After $24 million in renovations, they’re now all in shipshape. One of the cornerstones of the collection is now known as the Tremont House. The Mitchells acquired Tremont in 1985. It was at his home in the Tremont where Mitchell, surrounded by his 10 children and many grandchildren, died on Friday.