His family confirmed the death.
Mr. Mitchell’s role in championing new drilling and production techniques like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is credited with creating an unexpected natural gas boom in the United States. In a letter to President Obama last year, Daniel Yergin, the energy scholar and author, proposed that Mr. Mitchell be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“It is because of him that we can talk seriously about ‘energy independence,’ ” he said. (Mr. Mitchell did not receive the award.)
Mr. Mitchell combined academic training as a petroleum engineer and geologist with a gambler’s cunning to become an influential businessman worth $2 billion. He was a petroleum industry spokesman, then a persistent voice for “sustainable,” or environmentally responsible, economic growth. On 27,000 piney acres north of Houston, he built a town called The Woodlands partly to demonstrate his ideas.
The most significant chapter in his life came last. In the 1980s and ’90s, when many energy analysts foresaw only irreversible declines in hydrocarbon supplies, Mr. Mitchell got busy poking holes in Texas dirt on the hunch that they were wrong. Marshaling mostly existing technologies, he began fracturing shale rock formations in fields where he had long pumped oil and gas at shallower depths.
After 17 years of trying, Mr. Mitchell finally hit pay dirt with gushers of gas in 1998. The flow was so prodigious that a competitor thought that the announcement was a practical joke. The $6 million that Mr. Mitchell had put into the project was “surely the best development money in the history of gas,” The Economist magazine said.
The success enabled him to sell his company, the Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation, to the Devon Energy Corporation for $3.5 billion in 2001. Included in the sale were the results of years of drilling more than 10,000 wells, many of which still yielded hydrocarbons.
Fracking uses water and chemical injections to force more oil from reservoirs. Both the Gas Technology Institute, a nonprofit research organization, and the federal Energy Department worked with Mr. Mitchell, giving him technical help and some financing. He also received federal tax credits.
Techniques for hydraulic fracturing vary, but Mr. Mitchell’s involved drilling straight down, then making a 90-degree turn thousands of feet underground to penetrate shale formations horizontally. A high-pressure mix of chemical- and sand-laced water was then injected, releasing trapped gas.
Fracking and other unconventional techniques have doubled North American natural gas reserves to three quadrillion cubic feet — the rough equivalent of 500 million barrels of oil, or almost double Saudi Arabia’s crude inventory. The increase came after four decades of declines. Gas is also being economically produced in northern states like New York, which had been considered barren of commercial hydrocarbons.
The same techniques worked for oil extraction. The Oil and Gas Journal reported this April that a well that would have produced 70 barrels a day using conventional drilling can produce 700 with fracking. North Dakota’s oil boom is one result.
Environmentalists and landowners worry that the new techniques will pollute groundwater and cause other environmental problems, particularly as they are deployed in virgin territories. Industry promises that good engineering practices will curb abuses, and some independent studies support that view.
“We can frack safely if we frack sensibly,” Mr. Mitchell and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York wrote last year in an op-ed column in The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Mitchell’s roots reached back to Greece, where his father, Savvas Paraskevopoulos, tended goats before immigrating to the United States in 1901, arriving at Ellis Island at the age of 20. He worked for railroads, and gradually moved west. When a paymaster got tired of writing his long name and threatened to fire him, Mr. Paraskevopoulos took the paymaster’s name, Mike Mitchell.
Mike Mitchell settled in Galveston, where he ran a succession of shoe-shining and pressing shops. When he saw the picture of a beautiful woman in a local Greek newspaper, he headed for Florida, where she had settled, according to family lore. He persuaded her to abandon her fiancé and marry him. They lived above the shoeshine shop.
George Phydias Mitchell was born in Galveston on May 21, 1919. His mother died when he was 13, and he finished high school at 16. No college would accept him at that age so he went to another high school for a year and brushed up on math. At Texas A&M University, he scrambled for tuition money until he started selling gold-embossed stationery to students lonesome for sweethearts back home. He finished first in his class in petroleum engineering and was captain of the tennis team.
He worked for Amoco in the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana, before joining the Army Corps of Engineers and overseeing construction projects. After his discharge, he started an oil company with partners, including his brother Johnny, who strolled Houston in jungle shorts and a pith helmet. The brothers did many of their early deals at a drugstore counter.
When a Chicago bookie offered the fledgling company a deal for an area north of Fort Worth known as “the wildcatters’ graveyard,” they bit. They quickly drilled 13 successful wells, and bet everything they had to expand their holdings in the area to 300,000 acres. That became the backbone of a company that hit oil or gas on 35 to 40 percent of the 10,000 wells it drilled.
In the 1960s, Mr. Mitchell, looking to diversify, bought 66,000 acres of mostly undeveloped real estate within a 50-mile radius of Houston. In 1974 he created The Woodlands, a 27,000-acre forested development 27 miles north of Houston, helped by a $50 million loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 100,000 people live there today. The Exxon Mobil corporation is building a 385-acre campus for 10,000 employees there.
Partly motivated by a desire to solve urban problems, Mr. Mitchell visited the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and the Watts section of Los Angeles when planning the project. In 1997, he sold Mitchell Energy’s stake in The Woodlands for $543 million. He said in 2001 that it had not achieved the ethnic mix for which he hoped, but recommended that it be annexed by Houston to increase diversity.
In his early 20s, Mr. Mitchell met two twin sisters, Cynthia and Pamela Woods. He first dated Pamela but married Cynthia, with whom he created the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. It has given more than $400 million to a variety of causes. Mrs. Mitchell died in 2009.
Mr. Mitchell is survived by his sister, Maria Mitchell Ballantyne; three daughters, Pamela Maguire, Meredith Dreiss and Sheridan Lorenz; seven sons, Scott, Mark, Kent, Greg, Kirk, Todd and Grant; 23 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His wife’s twin sister also survives him.
His publicist, Lori De Waal, announced the death. She said he had recently had a blood clot in his lung.
Mr. Farina eventually had a longer career as an actor than he did in law enforcement, infusing dozens of roles with world-weary credibility and a convincing nexus of nose and mustache.
He had been working as a detective in a special burglary unit in Chicago when a mutual friend introduced him to the director Michael Mann, who was making his first feature film, “Thief.” Mr. Farina was initially a consultant for the movie before being given a small role as a crime boss’s enforcer. The film, which starred James Caan, was released in 1981.
For several years afterward, Mr. Farina juggled his police job with local theater roles and appearances in movies and television shows. He was often cast by Mr. Mann, including in several episodes of his hit show “Miami Vice.”
Mr. Farina quit police work after Mr. Mann cast him in 1986 in the NBC series “Crime Story” as Lt. Mike Torello, a detective who pursues a Chicago mobster to Las Vegas. “Crime Story” was well regarded by critics but lasted just two seasons.
Mr. Farina’s work in “Crime Story” led to a role in the 1986 film “Manhunter,” which Mr. Mann also directed. In 1988 Mr. Farina appeared in the film “Midnight Run” and in 1998 in Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic, “Saving Private Ryan.”
One of his most notable characters was the mobster Ray (Bones) Barboni in the 1995 film “Get Shorty,” based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. The movie, which also starred John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito, was a critical and commercial success; Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, called Mr. Farina’s work “a funny deadpan performance.”
The quality of roles he accepted declined for a time after “Get Shorty” — he appeared in a short-lived sitcom on NBC, “In-Laws,” and in several disappointing films, including “Stealing Harvard” — but his fortunes improved in 2004, when he was cast as the dapper detective Joe Fontana on “Law & Order.”
In a radio interview several years ago, Mr. Farina said his character on that show was “firm but fair” and “took advantage of every inch that he could, and if that didn’t work sometimes maybe he had to stretch things a little.”
Mr. Farina said he was honored to be on the show, one of the longest-running in television history, but was also amused, as a former detective, by the increasing number of programs that emphasized the roles of scientists in solving crimes.
“While forensics plays a huge part in law enforcement nowadays, you still need the foot soldiers,” he told The Times in 2004. “You still need the guy who can knock on the door, you still need the guy who can write down the license plate numbers.”
In 2012, Mr. Farina appeared on the short-lived HBO series “Luck” as a henchman to a horse-racing gambler played by Dustin Hoffman. The show, which had its premiere in 2012, ceased filming in March after three horses died during production.
He most recently appeared on the Fox comedy “New Girl” and was in two movies tentatively scheduled for release this year, “Authors Anonymous” and “Lucky Stiff.”
Mr. Farina was born on Feb. 29, 1944, in Chicago. His survivors include his longtime companion, Marianne Cahill; three sons, Dennis Jr., Michael and Joseph, and six grandchildren. His first marriage ended in divorce.
Even after Mr. Farina left the Chicago Police Department in the mid-1980s, he continued to live in his hometown, and the characters he played were often from Chicago even if a show or movie was set elsewhere. The Chicago police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy, said in a statement on Monday that Mr. Farina was “a true-blue Chicago character” who “never forgot where he came from.”
Mr. Farina said as much himself.
“My personality was formed by Chicago,” he told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1999. “It’s very American, very straightforward. If you can’t find it, or make it there, you won’t make it anywhere. It’s a very honest place.”
WILLIE LOUIS, KEY WITNESS IN 1955 EMMETT TILL MURDER CASE
BY BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporter email@example.com
July 23, 2013 8:22PM
Willie Louis was a witness for the prosecution in the Emmett Till case. He was known as Wiile Reed at the time of the trial. | University of Memphis Library photo
Updated: July 24, 2013 2:24AM
Willie Louis heard Emmett Till scream as he was viciously beaten in 1955.
And Mr. Louis bravely testified in court against two white men — telling the jury of the “hollering” and “licks” he heard — despite the danger his testimony posed in the segregated South.
Mr. Louis, who went by the name Willie Reed before moving to Chicago after the historic trial in Mississippi, died July 18 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, his wife said. Mr. Louis, a longtime Englewood resident, was 76.
“What stood out, and what stands out to me about Willie the most, is his courage,” said Emmett Till’s cousin, the Rev. Wheeler Parker, 74, who had traveled to Mississippi with Emmett Till. “He was nothing but a godsend.”
Mike Small, a teacher who has studied the landmark case, called Mr. Louis “one of the unsung civil rights heroes in Chicago.”
Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was murdered after whistling at a white woman outside a grocery store in Mississippi.
The youth was kidnapped and taken to a tool shed.
It was near there that Mr. Louis, then 18, saw the boy in a truck with several other men. Mr. Louis also heard a beating coming from inside that tool shed. The truck had also been parked in front of the shed.
In an interview with “60 Minutes” nearly a decade ago, Mr. Louis said, “I heard the screaming, beating, the screaming and beating.”
Mr. Louis was also approached by one of the accused killers, J.W. Milam, who carried with him a pistol, and asked if he’d heard anything. Mr. Louis told him he hadn’t seen anything, he told “60 Minutes.”
But Mr. Louis couldn’t keep secret what he saw, becoming a key witness in the trial. Despite his testimony, the all-white jury acquitted Milam and co-defendant Roy Bryant. The murder and acquittal were among the sparks that ignited the civil rights movement.
“I couldn’t have walked away from that like that because Emmett was 14, probably never been to Mississippi in his life and had come to visit his grandfather, and they killed him. That’s not right,” he said in the interview.
The trial took a toll on Mr. Louis. The Greenwood. Miss., native was whisked away after the trial and came to Chicago where he suffered a nervous breakdown, his wife, Juliet Louis, 68, said. Mr. Louis also changed his name to find anonymity.
Mr. Louis worked at Jackson Park Hospital as a surgical orderly for nearly 50 years. That’s where he met his wife.
The pair were working in the intensive care unit at the hospital and Mr. Louis sweet-talked the nurse’s aide.
“He said ‘Hey there. Why don’t you come over here and give me a kiss?’” Juliet Louis said. “I went over there and kissed him on his jaw.”
The couple married in 1976. It was nearly eight years later that Juliet Louis found out about her husband’s involvement in the Emmett Till case.
“He never really got over that,” Juliet Louis said. That was something that really bothered him, and he was keeping it in him.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Louis is survived by his step-son, Sollie McKinnon; seven grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
Services will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at New Commandment Church of God in Christ, 1742 W. 63rd St.