ARUN RATH, HOST:
Another man who changed the world without attaining celebrity status passed away this year. George Mitchell was a Texas oil and gas man who played a big part in creating America's growing energy independence, so frequently touted by politicians. Mitchell and his company pioneered the now controversial technique known as fracking.
RUSSELL GOLD: He was the one who proved that you could get gas out of shale.
RATH: Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold is author of an upcoming book on fracking.
GOLD: Before the breakthrough well in 1997, the United States was an energy pauper. It was an importer. It had just dregs left of oil and gas. That was the conventional wisdom. You know, you fast-forward almost 20 years now and the United States is a wash. It's - there's a glut of gas and an emerging glut of oil.
RATH: You know, obviously, there are a lot of people who are opposed to fracking, you know, for - because of concern for the environment. And they might be, you know, prone to think of Mitchell as kind of a villain. But he was actually - he was really big on the sustainability movement.
GOLD: He was enormously involved in sustainability. In the early 1970s, he ends up at a retreat where he meets Buckminster Fuller and falls under the sway of Buckminster Fuller. You know, this great...
RATH: Radical like innovative technological thinker...
GOLD: Very innovative forward thinker kind of created the idea of spaceship earth. You know, we have this one earth. You know, how do we preserve it? But interestingly enough, he never takes that into his business. He never invests in any renewable energy.
One of his sons calls it the Mitchell paradox. That he could never quite understand why Mitchell was so intellectually interested in sustainability but never wanted to take that into his corporation, and take the same stubborn approach that he did to figuring out how to frack and crack open shale rock to figuring out how to make renewables work better.
RATH: That's Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold, talking about fracking pioneer George Mitchell, who died this year at age 94. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.