The Shale Revolution has made it possible for the United States to produce more oil and gas than any other country in the world. And it has made the Permian Basin in Texas, the world’s largest shale field. But how and when did it really begin? It did not begin in the Permian Basin, and it didn’t even begin in Texas. It started with the Battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War in 1862.
One man’s keen eyes and discerning mind changed the world
Col. Edward A. L. Roberts of the Union army, after seeing the results of Confederate artillery fire on a canal that was obstructing the battlefield, had an idea. His idea would change the world, particularly the oil and gas industry in America, forever. He submitted his idea to the U.S. Patent Office, and in 1865 he received the first of many patents for “improvements to the exploding torpedo.” His idea was to send a torpedo down the borehole of an oil well that was filled with water. The water concentrated the explosion of the torpedo, fracturing the surrounding rock and making the oil easier to extract. He called the practice “shooting the well.”
Col. Roberts’ idea was so successful that copycats soon started trying to get their unfair share. Because they worked illegally at night, they became known as “moonlighters.” Col. Roberts fought them so often it is believed he brought more civil litigation defending a patent than anyone else in U.S. history. It is an amazing story. For the complete details, check out “Shooters – A ‘Fracking’ History” on the American Gas and Oil Historical Society’s website.
From a Civil War colonel to a Texas businessman
Over the decades a continuous wave of small innovations in technology kept coming. Until, in the 1980s, George P. Mitchell from Galveston, Texas made a breakthrough. The son of a Greek immigrant, he helped pay for his college education by running a tailoring and laundry business and selling candy. After graduating first in his class at Texas A&M University with degrees petrochemical engineering and geology, he began his career in the oil business as a wildcatter operation. He spent many years and millions of dollars discovering an efficient and economically successful way of extracting natural gas from shale. From him came America’s first real shale boom, and he became known as “the father of hydraulic fracking.” Because of him, this year Texas saw 550 Permian Basin wells fracked just in June, beating its own record from last year.
This is not the only legacy Mr. Mitchell and his wife gave us. They were philanthropists. Among many other gifts and donations aimed at sustainability, they donated $20 million to create the George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainable Science at the National Academy of Sciences. Sadly, he passed away in 2013.
The best is yet to come
These two men had ideas, and acted upon them. Because of them the oil and natural gas industry is flourishing. Because the industry is flourishing, our nation is gaining strength through energy independence. Because of the strength of our nation, the world benefits. There are still passionate innovators working in the industry today. They care about our country and our world, and every day they are diligently working to make it a safer, cleaner place to live and thrive. We cannot wait to see what they come up with next.