A recent investigative piece in “Rolling Stone” takes a sharp look at the men behind the Big Energy companies. Journalist Jeff Goodell puts his primary focus on Aubrey McClendon, director of Chesapeake Energy and America’s second-largest producer of natural gas.
Goodell tells us McClendon’s story without using a single adjective to make him sound human. McClendon was born into the oil and gas industry; his great-uncle Robert S. Kerr was the cofounder of the Kerr-McGree Corp. McClendon started his career as an accountant—he didn’t hop aboard with natural gas until 1989. But it was a quick buck, when Chesapeake Energy went public four years later it was already valued at $25 million.
For Chesapeake Energy, the primary profit in fracking does not come from selling the gas itself, but from buying and selling the land that contains the gas. The company owns the drilling rights to just about 15 million acres of land—more than any leaseholder in the country. To quote, “As McClendon put it in a conference call with Wall Street analysts a few years ago, “I can assure you that buying leases for x and selling them for 5x or 10x is a lot more profitable than trying to produce gas at $5 or $6 per million cubic feet.”’
Chesapeake could be considered more of a land-acquisition machine than an energy company. Its key to success is moving swiftly and quietly. However, the company is required by law to drill on purchased land within five years of acquirement. And it is during this race to drill that grave mistakes are made.
One fact energy companies will take the time to hammer into your head is this, “when it’s done right, drilling and fracking is harmless to the environment.” But when the main goal is profit and the company isn’t taking the time to make sure everything is working properly, fracking can harm the environment.
Goodell leaves us with this food for thought:
“He’s not going to back off until every last square foot of shale rock in America is drilled and fracked and sucked clean of gas. McClendon may rely on sophisticated new drilling technologies, but at heart, he’s driven by the same dream of endless extraction that has gripped oil barons and coal companies since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In the end, all his talk of energy independence and a cleaner, brighter future boils down to a single demand, as simple as it is disastrous: Drill, baby, drill.”