This is the third of a three-part series on rebuilding America.
A titan of American industry died in 2013 and he was bigger by far than Steve Jobs.
This giant created an entire city from scratch. He gave away $400 million in charities. He made America as energy independent as it is possible to get, where seven different administrations and presidents from the fraudulent Richard Nixon through Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had all miserably failed, He transformed the energy dynamics of the entire world, and increased the quantity of energy that can be extracted in oil and natural gas within the United States by extraordinary amounts. Not one American in 10,000 knows his name.
His name was George Phydias Mitchell.
As the New York Times acknowledged in its obituary of him, “Fracking and other unconventional techniques have doubled North American natural gas reserves to three quadrillion cubic feet — the rough equivalent of 500 billion barrels of oil, or almost double Saudi Arabia’s crude inventory. The increase came after four decades of decline.”
Mitchell, who died at the age of 94 on July 26, was a throwback to an earlier, vastly different, now unfashionable America, his astonishing success and transformative relevance to the 21st century is slaying endless herds of sacred cows and exposing endless legions of pompous pundits and false prophets on the high tech right and the green energy left as ignorant buffoons.
Yet in literal terms, George P. Mitchell, the son of an immigrant goat-herder from Greece, invented nothing. Instead, he took an obscure, long-sneered at technology that had been used on the fringes of the oil and gas extraction industry for more than 70 years, upgraded, improved and vastly expanded it –and made it a game changer. Where biomass, corn ethanol, wind power, solar power and all the other still fringe, peripheral and impractical technologies failed, fracking – the use of explosive hydraulic chemical cocktails to liberate oil and natural gas in shale formations – succeeded.
The bias against Mitchell and fracking was enormous and ludicrous. In 2008, when his technology had already shown its worth and was transforming the energy map of America, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times solemnly proclaimed in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” that the American oil industry was the worst and most backward looking in the world because it allegedly spent less on research and development than China and other nations chasing the holy grail of limitless wind and solar power.
It was the most fatuous false prophecy since in October 1903 revered professor of mathematics and astronomy Simon Newcomb proclaimed that heavier than air flight was impossible. Less than two months later, two other unpretentious practical American geniuses, the Wright Brothers, who manufactured and repaired bicycles for a living, proved him wrong.
Mitchell too never went to Harvard, Yale or MIT, never won a Nobel Prize, was never interviewed on Charlie Rose. Most certainly he was never in the running for a MacArthur Foundation “genius,” award, an oxymoron for morons if ever there was one.
He was one of the last survivors of unfashionable old hardhat America, practical, unpretentious America, the America that rolled up its sleeves, and got things done. He even built an enlightened suburb north of Houston, The Woodlands. It has grown into a city with a population of 100,000.
George P. Mitchell came from the America that developed DDT and then used it to kill trillions of mosquitoes and banish malaria rather than the emotional, sentimental, science-ignorant world of Rachel Carson, whose “Silent Spring” emotionally presented a serious of false myths (egg shells were not getting thinner, butterflies were not becoming extinct) and got DDT banned. Her heritage doomed millions of people in Africa to death every year because malaria soared into resurgence again. Mitchell’s has already generated hundreds of thousands of new jobs and revived prosperity across the American Heartland.
Against all odds, Mitchell won.
He won not only because he was right, and not only because the free market enterprise system still works, despite the hold that pretentious intellectuals from the metastasizing big universities, bicoastal media and think tanks have on it. But also because there are two Americas in the 21st century, not one. And Mitchell embodied the best values of the despised and overlooked one.
He was a Heartland figure of the vast continental core of the nation of what I call in my upcoming book “Gathering Storm” Wal-Mart nation, the America of Country and Western music, Evangelical Christianity and NASCAR, and also of energy development and unfashionable heavy and hard-hat industry.
Mitchell was the obvious heir of John D Rockefeller Sr. and in more ways than one. He had the entrepreneurial vision, drive, independence and courage and boldness to transform an entire continent by producing a new energy source that was cheaper, safer and more abundant than anyone had ever dreamed.
Rockefeller, it is now almost totally forgotten, saved 19th century America from the fearful curse of the thousands of people of every age who had previously been incinerated alive when the cans of kerosene fuel for cooking and heating they opened proved volatile when ignited and exploded catastrophically. Rockefeller imposed stringent quality controls and economies of scale on his unprecedented giant refineries and banished that nightmare at a stroke. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for one, had a lifelong horror of fire having seen as a young boy a beloved young aunt running screaming in flames ignited that way as she blazed to death).
In Mitchell’s case, his oil and natural gas produce a low carbon footprint and have none of the nightmarish environmental threats that civilian nuclear power plants generating endless quantities of eternally lethal plutonium cause.
Mitchell was no killjoy, bigot or Know-Nothing. He was an exceptionally generous donor to universities and centers of technology and research, especially across Texas. The mainstream intellectual elites, however, ignored him when they could not criticize him. His very existence exposed and refuted their own ignorance, incompetence and bigotries. Most of all, as Adrian Wooldridge wrote in the Schumpeter column of The Economist magazine on August 3, Mitchell was the embodiment of “a mighty force … America’s extraordinary capacity to reinvent itself.”
Martin Sieff is an editor at Sputnik, the Russian-owned news organization. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008), Gathering Storm (2014) and Cycles of Change: The Three Great Eras of American History and the Coming Crisis that will Lead to the Fourth (2014). Follow Martin on: @MartinSieff