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COLLEGE STATION --

From his contributions to the oil and gas industry to his visionary real estate ventures to his untiring support of scientific endeavors, George P. Mitchell '40 personifies "energy" and illustrates the impact of Texas A&M University's 12th Man.

Raised in an immigrant neighborhood in Galveston, Mitchell joined his brother, Johnny, in the Louisiana oilfields -- a summer job that led him to study petroleum engineering with an emphasis in geology at Texas A&M. After graduation, Mitchell worked as an engineering and geology consultant and later bought out the interests of some of his partners. That company evolved into Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange with revenues of $1 billion. It was one of the nation's largest independent oil and gas companies, and in 2002, it merged with Devon Energy Corporation.

Success as an oil executive would be enough for most people -- but not for Mitchell. While managing his own company, he was also busy revolutionizing the energy industry. Two decades of work by Mitchell's research team paid off in a huge way with the development of hydraulic fracturing -- creating "escape routes" for oil and gas in shale beds. As a result, shale gas has increased from 1 percent to 30 percent of American natural gas supplies since 2000, providing the United States with an estimated 100-year supply of natural gas -- the cleanest of the fossil fuels.

"George Mitchell's vision and dedication achieved what was once thought impossible and produced the single most important energy innovation so far this century," said energy historian Dr. Daniel Yergin, chairman of energy adviser and analyst IHS CERA. "As recently as 2007, it was thought that natural gas was in tight supply in the United States and that it would soon become a major importer of natural gas. Owing to the pioneering work of Mr. Mitchell and his team, that outlook has been turned upside down."

The same kind of energy that drove Mitchell's success in the oil and gas industry has been harnessed to achieve great things in other fields as well. In 1974, Mitchell unveiled a new 25,000-acre master-planned city north of downtown Houston called The Woodlands, which was praised as a hub of intellectual pursuits, scientific research and environmentally conscious design. He later founded the Houston Advanced Research Center -- a collaboration of eight universities and related research groups dedicated to the principles of sustainable development.

Mitchell's passion for physics and astronomy has played out in his tremendous support of those fields at Texas A&M. Several multi-million dollar gifts from Mitchell and his late wife, Cynthia Woods Mitchell -- as well as from their foundation -- ensured Texas A&M's place as a founding member of the Giant Magellan Telescope Project. The Mitchells financed a fundamental physics and astronomy institute at the university, then gave $35 million toward the construction of two state-of-the-art physics buildings.

In all, the Mitchells and their foundation have given more than $75 million in support of Texas A&M, making them the largest donors in Texas A&M history.

"The impact of Mr. Mitchell's generosity on science in general at Texas A&M is huge," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "The buildings he helped fund greatly enhance our ability to do world-class teaching, research and service. The Mitchell Institute and the Cambridge Collaboration bring top-notch scientists from all over the world to our campus.

"The endowed chairs and professorships have allowed us to attract internationally renowned faculty," continued Newton. "His unmatched support of the joint A&M-University of Texas partnership in the Giant Magellan Telescope project benefits both universities and is a model for the sort of collaboration we seek in the scientific enterprise."

Texas A&M Foundation President Ed Davis '67 said Mitchell's reputation as a man of vision has played out time and time again not only with his gifts, but with his leadership.

"My first exposure to Mr. Mitchell was in 1983 when he chaired the Target 2000 study," said Dr. Davis. "Among its recommendations was a major philanthropic campaign. Since then, we have completed two campaigns that have brought the total value of the long-term investment pool we manage to more than $1 billion. Looking back, Mr. Mitchell's advice that we should embark on a campaign is further proof of his legendary vision."

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About 12 Impacts for 2012: 12 Impacts for 2012 is an ongoing series throughout 2012 highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world.

Socol Kara

  • Visionary 12th Man

    In the first installment of the 12 Impacts for 2012 series, Texas A&M highlights George P. Mitchell '40 and his contributions to the energy industry.

  • "Greek" Mitchell '40

    George P. Mitchell graduated from Texas A&M in 1940 with a petroleum engineering degree.

  • Partners in Progress

    Mitchell and his late wife, Cynthia, stand outside the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, Texas.

  • Lasting Legacy

    Several holders of the various endowed chairs and professorships established by or in part by George P. and Cynthia Mitchell were on hand for the Mitchell Physics Buildings dedication, held Dec. 4, 2009.

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