louisiana fracking

A fracking giant's fall

Historians generally place the invention of fracking in a gas field in southwestern Kansas in 1947.


It remained largely a novelty until the late 1980's, when a petroleum geologist named George Mitchell found a cost-efficient way to shatter shale rock with a high-pressure mix of water, sand, and chemicals, collecting the oil or gas released in the "fracturing."

Aubrey McClendon co-founded Chesapeake Energy in 1989, just in time to see natural gas prices begin a steady growth pattern.

They fracked shale patches from Texas to Pennsylvania. By the early 2010's, McClendon was a billionaire, and Chesapeake had cracked the Fortune 500.

Big Oil titans and small operators alike loved fracking. It changed the face of the oil and gas industry. Power plants run on fracked natural gas ran cheaper than coal or nuclear plants. This dealt what may turn out to be mortal blows to both coal and nuke energy in the U.S.

But who else loved fracking? Many environmentalists embraced fracked natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to cleaner energy—far from ideal, but better than dirty coal or petroleum. The Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign took $25 million from fracking companies and executives, much of it from McClendon and Chesapeake, who were happy to have the venerable environmental group as an unwitting wing man in kneecapping a competing industry.

When the donations were exposed, Sierra cut ties with McLendon et al., but they kept the $25 million.

The "bridge fuel" increasingly was infested with trolls: Shady land deals, the environmental harm, an alarming increase in earthquakes in faultless Oklahoma, and more.

But oh, how the money rolled in. Fracking, in a word, flourished. The U.S. arguably achieved its coveted status as a net energy exporter. The industry was worth trillions.

Already a high-roller, Aubrey McClendon was made for the part of tycoon. He led a team of investors who bought the Seattle SuperSonics and moved the team to Oklahoma City in 2008, where the newly-named Thunder play in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

But McClendon's penchant for extravagant spending on personal luxuries—often on the company's dime—and allegations of multiple conflicts of interests, put him at odds with the board of a company he viewed as his own.

Chesapeake's stock price peaked in 2014, at more than $1,300 per share. But oil prices began a sharp decline, and a federal antitrust indictment loomed for Aubrey McClendon. He was fired at year's end.

On March 1, 2015, Aubrey McClendon was indicted on federal antitrust charges. The next day, McClendon drove his car at high speed directly into a concrete wall. He died instantly. Oklahoma's Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident.

Last year, another boisterous fracking kingpin called the industry a "disaster."

More evidence of fracking's environmental disasters continue to pile in.

An oil and gas glut deepened. Layoffs cut deeply into Chesapeake's 13,000-person workforce. At the time of its Chapter Eleven bankruptcy filing on June 28, its stock price stood at $2.99 a share.

The stories of Aubrey McClendon and Chesapeake Energy—the man and the company who fell to Earth—are a Hollywood script that can write itself.

They changed the world's energy industry.

The question remains: Eventually, we'll find out how much, and in what direction.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Contact him at pdykstra@ehn.orgor on Twitter at @Pdykstra.

Banner photo: A natural gas fracking well near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Credit: Daniel Foster/flickr)

Chesapeake Energy was a fracking pioneer on a meteoric rise. Last week, it fell to Earth.

India′s forgotten stray animals suffer under record heat waves

Millions of street animals are struggling to escape blistering temperatures and dehydration. The heat waves have already caused widespread damage across India.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

E-bike sales and sharing are booming
Vima/Flickr

E-bike sales and sharing are booming. But can they help take cars off the road?

E-bikes, already taking off during the pandemic, are getting a big boost from states that hope they will reduce driving, energy consumption and emissions.

Indonesian palm oil audit
Stratman²/Flickr

Indonesian palm oil audit a chance to clean up ‘very dirty’ industry

The Indonesian government plans to audit all palm oil companies operating in the country, in a bid to tackle an ongoing shortage and high prices of cooking oil.

What the Canadian government’s aquaculture news means for wild fish

Salmon need to reach the ocean without being infected by open-net pen farms, says Alexandra Morton.

What polar bear genomes may reveal about life in a low-ice Arctic

Two new studies use whole genome sequencing to explore how the animals have fared in warmer conditions, raising questions about climate and adaptation.
Covid, conflict and climate are fueling a global food crisis
www.forbes.com

Covid, conflict and climate are fueling a global food crisis

“If you think we’ve got hell on earth now, you just get ready,” the executive director of the World Food Programme David Beasley warned recently.

The ocean is climate change’s first victim and last resort

Rain forests may be known as the planet’s lungs, but it’s when standing before the seas, with their crashing waves and ceaselessly cycling tides, that we feel the earth breathe.

From our Newsroom
Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Global Warming: Why the problem is worse – and solutions simpler – than you thought

Noted ecologist John Harte offers a fresh take on the dire topic of climate change.

Colorado fracking

Colorado is the first state to ban PFAS in oil and gas extraction

The toxic “forever chemicals” are used in fracking wells across the country.

gun control

Peter Dykstra: Gun and climate change delusions

Millions here suffer from twin hallucinations: Guns don’t cause our mass shootings, and the climate isn’t changing.

Op-ed: An engine for social justice leads the way to change

Engine for social justice leads to change

Virginia Organizing's 27-year history as a role model for The Daily Climate

Using comedy to combat climate change

Using comedy to combat climate change

The Climate Comedy Cohort aims to help comedians infuse climate activism into their creative work.

roe v. wade

Derrick Z. Jackson: Roe v. Wade draft bodes ill for air, wetlands and the EPA

Justice Alito’s longstanding consistency in wanting to restrict EPA authority makes it transparent where he wants the court to go.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.