George Mitchell was the son of a poor Greek goatherd who worked his way through college, graduated top of his class, and became known for his determination and vision. The Economist describes him as the father of fracking:
He did not discover shale gas and oil: geological surveys had revealed them decades before he started. He did not even invent fracking: it had been in use since the 1940s…. His greatness lay in a combination of vision and grit: he was convinced that technology could unlock the vast reserves of energy in the Barnett Shale beneath Dallas and Fort Worth, and he kept grappling with the unforgiving rock until it eventually surrendered its riches….
He left a fortune of more than $2 billion and a Texas landscape studded with examples of his philanthropy.
Mitchell, who died last month, “was a one-man refutation of the declinist hypothesis,” reads the Schumpeter column in this week’s Economist. He poked holes in the dry Texas land and over decades developed the technology that is transforming America’s energy landscape, and the world’s. Soon the US will be a net gas exporter. Influential petro-states like Saudi Arabia and Russia are finding their influence wane as cheap American natural gas draws in their former customers. Mitchell, an environmentalist as well as oil engineer, developed fracking and horizontal drilling techniques that helped reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to a twenty-year low last year.
The declinists are fond of saying that the US, with its labyrinthine and inefficient government, its weak economy, struggling education system, and high unemployment, is destined for decline and that China will soon blow by on its way to becoming the world’s foremost superpower. But the declinists underestimate China’s problems and underestimate Americans’ capacity for reinvention and innovation. “No other country produces as many world-changing new companies in such a variety of industries: not just in the new economy of computers and the internet but also in the old economy of shopping, manufacturing and energy,” notes the Economist, which itself never seemed to put much stock in the declinist theory. “The pessimists are ignoring a mighty force pushing in the opposite direction: America’s extraordinary capacity to reinvent itself.”
[Oil rig image courtesy of Shutterstock]