The Feds and Fracking: A Chicken or Egg Question

Federal officials like to remind the public that the invention of hydraulic fracturing owes a great debt to government funding and support. Houston oilman George P. Mitchell would have disagreed.
Tue October 29, 2013 11:15 am
George Mitchell, often considered the father of shale gas industry, benefitted from federal tax credits for unconventional drilling, but he shouldered the risk.

With his own “green jobs” initiative falling short and unemployment remaining stubbornly high, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that President Barack Obama touted the benefits of cheap natural gas in his 2012 State of the Union speech. He predicted that the boom unleashed by hydraulic fracturing would add 600,000 jobs by 2020, then added this aside: “by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of thirty years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock, reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.”

Listening to the speech from his home in The Woodlands, Dan Steward bristled. Recounting the story more than a year later, it’s still a sore subject for the former Mitchell Energy vice president who oversaw much of the company’s pioneering effort to develop fracking. In 2011, Steward granted an interview to the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank. The post that grew from his comments declared that “Mitchell Energy’s first horizontal well was subsidized by the federal government.”

That was the conclusion of the writer, but the post went on to quote Steward as saying the Department of Energy “did a hell of a lot of work, and I can’t give them enough credit for that. DOE started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish the DOE’s involvement.”

Steward doesn’t deny the comments, but they took on a life of their own, getting repeated on other blogs. Given the timing, Steward believes Obama’s speech

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