A memorial service, open to the public, will be held today for wildcatter and philanthropist George P. Mitchell – actually, three memorial services, as befits one of the great Texans of the 20th century. The Houston Chronicle in fact named him Houstonian of the Century. By all accounts, he was not only an entreprenurial genius, but a kind and generous man, a family man, and a man who gave back to his communities in many ways.
In one of his last public interviews, Mr. Mitchell addressed the issue of the safety and environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. I wrote about that interview. He said that he supports tough regulation of independent operators. “I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell said. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. And if it doesn’t do it right, penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.”
Last year, Mr. Mitchell and Mayor Michael Bloomberg published an op ed piece in the New York Times supporting tighter regulation of the industry. What they said bears repeating. They pledged that their foundations
will support organizations that seek to work with states and industries to develop common-sense regulations that will protect the environment — and ensure that the industry can thrive.
We will encourage better state regulation of fracking around five key principles:
Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process;
Optimizing rules for well construction and operation;
Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater;
Improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas; and
Reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities.
The latest research, including peer-reviewed studies out of Carnegie Mellon University and Argonne National Laboratory, suggests that if properly extracted and distributed, the impact of natural gas on the climate is significantly less than that of coal. Safely fracking natural gas can mean healthier communities, a cleaner environment and a reliable domestic energy supply right now.
We can frack safely if we frack sensibly. That may not make for a great bumper sticker. It does make for good environmental and economic policy.
Not words from a stereotypical Texas wildcatter. The industry would to well to follow his advice.