Two Weeks in Philadelphia.

            The mountains on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece are steep-sided and forested at the upper levels.  They yield a host of narrow valleys.  From November to April each year, their streams fill, but then dry up.  The valley soil is badly eroded; much of the vegetation is scrubby laurel and myrtle; small-scale farming is possible, but goat herding is much more common; and no Greek government has ever seen much gain in spending money on schools, roads or reservoirs.  In short, it’s a poor place, one where it is “good to be from.”  Many are. 

            One of them was Savvas Paraskevopoulos (b: c. 1880).  He got together the money for a steerage-class ticket, gave up goat herding, and came to America in 1901.  He worked on railroads, moving West, Americanized his name to “Mike Mitchell,” ended up in Galveston and settled down.  He opened a shoe-shine shop, made a success of it, got married and had a family.

            Parents want children to make them proud.  His son George Phydias Mitchell (1919-2013) did.  In 1940, George graduated from Texas A&M as the class valedictorian with a degree in petroleum engineering and geology.  The Army Engineers immediately grabbed him for the duration.  After the war, he worked for one of the major oil companies, then formed a company, Mitchell Energy & Development Corp to find and develop oil wells.  He was good at this.  By 2004, he was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion.  So, the son of an immigrant Greek goat-herder becomes one of the richest people in the world. 

            In 1973 came the first of the “oil shocks” that turned the world economy and its politics topsy-turvy.  People started looking for ways to enhance America’s energy independence through new sources, fuel efficiency, and conservation.  George Mitchell gave the issue a lot of hard thought.  He knew that people had been investigating “massive hydraulic fracturing” (or “fracking” in the lingo of the business) for quite a while.  He wondered if it would be possible to apply “fracking” to the huge Barnett Shale of north Texas.  He wasn’t a guy to just “wonder if.”  By one estimate, between 1981and 1997, Mitchell plowed $250 million into finding out, then making it work on a cost-efficient basis.  That is, Mitchell unlocked a huge amount of natural gas at a low cost.  The Brookings Institution estimated that it has provided a net benefit of $48 billion per year to consumers and industry.  Soon, the methods were applied to other shales in the United States and Canada, then in China and other parts of the world. 

            Irving Yergin (1907-1986) did the sensible thing for a Jew born in tsarist Russia.  He went to America.  He worked his way west, ending up in Hollywood, where he went into the movie business, settled down, and had a family.  His son Daniel (1947- ) shone as a student (BA, Yale; MA, PhD, Cambridge University).  His dissertation turned into a successful book Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State (1977).  Headed for tenure in the Ivy League, events redirected him.  When, in the 1970s, the two “oil shocks” roiled the global economy and politics, Yergin made himself into an energy industry expert with compelling opinions and a fluent manner of expressing them.  Yergin wrote a series of highly readable door-stops.[1]  Now Yergin has turned his attention to the “fracking” industry and some of its implications for renewable energy.[2]  George Mitchell is one of his protagonists. 

[1] The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (1991); The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (2002); The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011). 

[2] Daniel Yergin, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (2020). 


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