Aubrey McClendon, an Oklahoma wildcatter who helped pioneer the shale energy boom, died in a fiery car crash Wednesday, a day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to rig the price of oil and gas leases.
Mr. McClendon propelled the rebirth of U.S. energy production as the co-founder of Chesapeake Energy Corp., leading a rush to lease land around the country to extract natural gas and oil trapped in shale rock formations through a technique made famous by its nickname, fracking.
Mr. McClendon, a graduate of Duke University, got his start in the oil business on the ground floor as a leasing agent, or “landman.” In 1989, he formed Chesapeake with a fellow landman, and occasional competitor, Tom Ward, with $50,000.
Mr. McClendon grasped the promise of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technology that could unlock formerly untapped deposits of oil and natural gas from dense underground sedimentary rock formations across the U.S.
He in turn commanded what he described as an army of landmen that swarmed regions likely to hold these energy riches, photographing county deed records en masse and going door-to-door to persuade owners to lease the rights to drill beneath their land.
At one point, Mr. McClendon spent more than $2 billion leasing rights to drill beneath roughly 5% of Ohio, where he believed the gas-laden Utica Shale would be the “biggest thing to hit Ohio since the plow.”
McClendon set the world awash with cheap energy, and the effects of that are just beginning to be seen, but already, it seems clear, to me at least, that there are going to be major changes in the Middle East and even Russia as their oil revenues plunge, and cheap oil has driven the last nail into Venezuela’s coffin. The man was a world-changer, and I’m sad to see him meet his death this way.