Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation, with headquarters at the Metro Center in the planned community of the Woodlands just north of Houston in the 1990s, was a major independent producer of natural gas, natural-gas liquids, and oil. In the early 1990s the company was involved in gas transmission and oil and gas exploration and production. It was also involved in real estate development in the Houston-Galveston area. At that time the firm had assets of more than $2 billion, including roughly 1.7 million acres of mineral leases and 60,000 acres of real estate. It owned fifty-seven gas-processing plants and a network of 5,000 miles of intrastate pipeline. By the end of fiscal year 1993 the corporation annually produced 58 billion cubic feet of natural-gas and more than 19 million barrels of natural-gas liquids, crude oil, and other products from holdings variously in North Texas, Limestone County in East Texas, and southeastern New Mexico. In the 1990s, Mitchell began construction of an underground salt-dome natural-gas storage facility in East Texas and developed a plant to produce MTBE, an environmentally cleaner gasoline additive mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act. The company's 2,800 workers enjoyed a stock purchase and savings plan, health and retirement benefits, and a company Wellness Center at headquarters.
Mitchell Energy and Development grew out of Roxoil Drilling, an enterprise incorporated and renamed Oil Drilling in 1946. Among its stockholders was George Phydias Mitchell, the son of a Greek goatherd named Savas Paraskivoupolis, who, to simplify his name, renamed himself Mike Mitchell, after his paymaster when he worked for the railroad. In 1905 Paraskivoupolis settled in Galveston, where his son George was born in 1919. George Mitchell grew up in the immigrant neighborhood of Galveston known as the League of Nations, living in the building that housed his father's dry-cleaning shop. He attended Texas A&M, where he operated a laundry concession and sold stationery to pay his way through. He graduated in 1940 with a degree in petroleum engineering and geology.
After working briefly for Amoco and serving with the United States Army Corps of Engineers in World War II, Mitchell entered a newly-formed wildcatting partnership called Christie, Mitchell, and Mitchell with his brother, Johnny, and H. Merlyn Christie. This firm bought out other Oil Drilling shareholders, while Johnny Mitchell and H. Merlyn Christie attracted important investors, including oilman Robert Everett (Bob) Smith, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, members of the Oshman and Weingarten merchant families, and Galveston gambling magnate Sam Maceo. In 1952 the partners drilled their first well in North Texas, in an area known as the "Wildcatters' Graveyard," and made one of the biggest gas strikes in industry history in Wise County near Fort Worth with the discovery of the rich gas resources of the Boonsville field. In 1953 the Christie, Mitchell and Mitchell Company, a subsidiary of Oil Drilling, was formed and began acquiring leases and drilling in North Texas. In 1954 the company arranged to supply natural gas to the Chicago metropolitan area through the Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America. Company headquarters for Oil Drilling were in Houston from 1955 to 1971. In 1957 the firm diversified into gas processing with the construction of its GM&A Gas Products Plant at Bridgeport, Texas. George Mitchell became company president and chief executive officer of Oil Drilling in 1959, and around 1962 H. Merlyn Christie retired from the company, leaving the brothers to split their shares seventy-thirty, with George taking the bigger slice. Known subsequently as Mitchell and Mitchell Oil and Gas Corporation, the enterprise, which by this time employed 225 workers and drilled up to 197 wells a year, consolidated its holdings under the control of George Mitchell.
After 1955 the firm began to diversify into real estate. When George Mitchell became president, he formed Mitchell Development of the Southwest, a subsidiary, to purchase Pelican Island, a 3000-acre industrial area at Galveston harbor that eventually attracted Pennzoil, Shell, and other major companies. In the late 1960s Mitchell also began to acquire Galveston beach property, including Pirate's Beach, his first subdivision. At the same time he became interested in developing some onshore and offshore gas and oil prospects in the vicinity of Galveston Island. Afraid that offshore drilling might pollute the beaches and damage the tourist trade, some Galveston citizens responded with a coalition called Save Our Shores, which voiced disapproval of the company's drilling plans. The company was eventually allowed to drill, and the first well came in in 1972. By 1989 the Galveston oil and gas operation had produced $11 million in royalties, of which the city of Galveston received 16 percent, and had generated more than $5 million in state and local taxes. In 1984 Mitchell Development established the San Luis Hotel and Condominiums at the former site of Fort Crockett on Galveston Island. By the 1990s Mitchell owned eighteen buildings, shops, and restaurants in Galveston's historic Strand area. In these and other projects, Mitchell was noted for making extensive use of public money, government funding sources, and tax breaks to develop his projects.
In 1963 Mitchell and Mitchell Oil and Gas Corporation acquired 200 miles of pipeline in Palo Pinto County from Southwestern Gas Pipeline, Incorporated. In 1971 the business was renamed Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation, and in 1972 an initial public offering was made on the American Stock Exchange. At one time George Mitchell owned over half of his publicly traded company. By 1974 Mitchell Energy had formed MND Drilling, a contract-drilling subsidiary, and had acquired the assets of Butler Drilling Company of Houston. Around that time Mitchell Energy also purchased ten gas-processing plants. In 1974 the firm opened the Woodlands, a 25,000-acre planned community twenty-seven miles north of downtown Houston, built under a federal incentive program to encourage urban developments. By 1994 population of the Woodlands had risen to nearly 40,000 and a new regional mall had opened, fostering a flurry of commercial activity. Mitchell sold the development in 1997.
In the 1980s Mitchell Energy remained insulated from falling gas prices by focusing on processing and transmission of gas liquids, and successfully weathered the Texas real estate and oil crisis through its long-term supply contracts. In 1992 the company was able to buy up domestic reserves placed on a depressed market by bigger companies.
With the relentless determination of George Mitchell, Mitchell Energy pioneered the process of hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”), a drilling method of extracting oil or natural gas from shale formations deep underground. Mitchell spent the better part of the 1980s and 1990s developing the experimental process at considerable financial expense as well as the criticism of many naysayers in the industry. One of Mitchell Energy’s shale gas wells, fractured by the injection of sand, water, and chemicals, hit big in 1997. Mitchell established the financial viability of hydraulic fracturing, and this helped open vast natural gas reserves that were previously unavailable. The company’s pioneering efforts revolutionized the American oil and gas industry.
Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation employed approximately 2,000 people in the late 1990s. In 2002 George Mitchell sold the company to Devon Energy Corporation for $3.5 billion.