The Life and Death of “Green” Fracking Titan Aubrey McClendon

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DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn profiles energy executive and billionaire Aubrey McClendon, who died in an Oklahoma car crash a day after the D.O.J. indicted him for alleged antitrust violations

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon died last month in an Oklahoma car crash a day after the U.S. Department of Justice indicted him for allegedly violating antitrust laws by colluding to rig the bids for oil and gas [acreage] while he was at Chesapeake Energy, which has been a central player in the U.S. fracking revolution of the past decade. He denied the charges, and police said that they were looking into and investigating the cause of the crash that occurred when McClendon was driving his 2013 Chevy Tahoe. Police said that the vehicle was so badly burned that they were unable to tell if McClendon was wearing a seatbelt.

With us to discuss the case and McClendon’s role in the huge fracking boom in the U.S. is Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for DeSmog Blog and a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in the Guardian, the Nation, and Truthout. Steve, good to have you back.

STEVE HORN: Good to be back. Thanks for having me.

PERIES: So Steve, you’ve covered a lot of what has happened behind the scenes in the world of oil and gas, of lobbies particularly. So talk about McClendon and how significant a figure he was in the oil and gas business, and fracking in particular.

HORN: Absolutely. Aubrey McClendon was the man who, I would say, is the–you could essentially pin, if you talk about what we now call as the natural gas, quote-unquote, bridge fuel. He was a key funder of that idea. He was actually the key funder of the Sierra club. Which was a, you know, kept it secret, but it eventually came out that he gave to the Sierra club $26 million to fight coal, their ban coal campaign, which meant that they were promoting at the time natural gas. That was under their former executive director, not their current one, Michael Brune.

But yes, so that was something that Michael Brune actually denounced after the fact once he took over. So that was reported on by Time magazine. But beyond that, McClendon, going even well before then, he was a funder of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth campaign that he was funding alongside his colleague in Oklahoma City [and] Oklahoma, T. Boone Pickens, which was supportive of George W. Bush and was meant to smear then-candidate for president John Kerry. And you know, in general he has given a lot of money to mostly the GOP. But he’s, you know, he’s mostly been politically active in the state of Oklahoma. And especially, as was reported after he died, he gave a lot of charitable contributions to the city. He actually did help in some ways develop the city into more of a metropolitan area, especially along the Oklahoma River.

So he was a titan-like figure in the oil and gas industry. Especially, he was not part of, quote-unquote, “big oil”. Chesapeake Energy is not ExxonMobil, it is not Shell, et cetera. So he really, you know, he’s seen as, almost as a Rockefeller-like figure for fracking. He’s one of the protagonists that’s covered in the book The Frackers by Gregory Zuckerman. He’s also covered in The Boom by Russell Gold. So business reporters really point to him as a central figure in fracking. It can’t really be stated any other way than he was a major player in what we see today with fracking. Chesapeake Energy was the, of course, the number two producer of shale gas behind only ExxonMobil in the United States at one point.

PERIES: Steve, explain that now. He was a funder of Sierra club. Gave it millions of dollars. So why did he do that in the interest of fracking?

HORN: Right. So the $26 million he gave to Sierra club was of course part of his own business self-interest. Since then, of course, Sierra club has reversed course on this. It now has a campaign–not only has a campaign called Beyond Coal, which I mentioned, but it has another campaign called Beyond Natural Gas, which it started under is new executive director, Michael Brune.

And since then, McClendon had doubled down, actually, on critics of fracking, people who called into question his claims that it was a green, clean bridge fuel. And he’s probably most famous, people follow his history closely, for standing and speaking at the Shale Gas Insight Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania back in 2011, while outside there was the Shale Gas Outrage. And he was speaking about those activists who were protesting outside of this business conference. He was basically saying, look at these people. You know, if we were to follow their course we would be all cold, hungry, and in the dark. So that’s a, that phrase right there is something that McClendon said, and it’s really a caricature of what environmentalists stand for, what people who are concerned about fracking, their stance on the issue.

But McClendon was a very outspoken guy, of course, very politically active. And you know, the way that he ended up going down after all was said and done in a way was symbolic for the direction that his businesses were going, the way the fracking industry’s going as of late, with oil prices going down. You know, Chesapeake Energy itself had sued McClendon after he left, because they claim that he stole trade secrets and stole maps, that sort of thing, for his new business. His other ventures, his current venture at American Energy Partners was not going well.

And so he of course at one point was at the pinnacle of the industry, but I think analysts now say that things have really gone 180 degree turn, direction for Aubrey McClendon, his prominence within the industry. There was a lot of people within the industry who had started not to like him very much.

PERIES: All right. Steve, I thank you so much for joining us today, and hope to have you back very soon.

HORN: Thanks for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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