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Indicted Ex-Oil CEO Aubrey McClendon Dies In Car Crash


A pioneer of the U.S. fracking industry died today suddenly. Oklahoma police say Aubrey McClendon drove his car into an overpass wall. Just yesterday, the Justice Department had indicted McClendon on charges that he rigged the bidding process for oil and gas leases in Oklahoma. McClendon denied the charges, calling them unprecedented and wrong, but the circumstances of his death are bound to raise questions. Joining us now is Joe Wertz of State Impact Oklahoma. He's speaking to us from KOSU in Oklahoma City. And, Joe, what else are police saying about how McClendon died?

JOE WERTZ: Well, the Oklahoma City police aren't saying a whole lot. At a press conference here this afternoon, they said they don't know what caused the accident. They just know the former Chesapeake Energy CEO was alone in an SUV that was likely traveling faster than the speed limits. The SUV left the road, hit the wall of an overpass and burst into flames. McClendon died. Police - the only other detail police had was that there appeared to be plenty of space for McClendon to get back on the road and avoid the wall.

MCEVERS: Do they suspect that he took his own life?

WERTZ: They haven't - again, they haven't said. They're going to do an autopsy, and they promise more details in the days and weeks to come. But we just don't know at this point.

MCEVERS: I mean, when you read about McClendon, he's obviously this larger-than-life figure in the energy industry. He's the co-founder of an energy company that took off the mid-'90s - a company he was later forced out of. I mean, given the impact he's had on Oklahoma, how are people there reacting?

WERTZ: Oklahoma is reacting with shock and disbelief. McClendon had a big impact on the state and Oklahoma City, in particular. But McClendon and Chesapeake Energy were also a force in world energy markets. McClendon didn't invent hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but he was certainly one of the technology's biggest evangelists. He was a high-profile and unapologetic oil man and, really, one of the principle architects of the recent energy boom here in the U.S. And all of that was made possible by fracking's ability to unlock oil and gas from shale rock, and McClendon was at the center of all that.

MCEVERS: He was also a major philanthropist, I understand, supporting lots of arts organizations in the city and state, and also a big basketball fan. Am I right?

WERTZ: Yeah, that's right. You know, McClendon cut a wide path in Oklahoma and Oklahoma City especially, both individually and at the helm of Chesapeake Energy. He gave a lot of money to charities, you know, community groups and arts organizations. He was active in city development issues. And he played a key role in bringing the NBA franchise to Oklahoma City. He owned an estimated 20 percent of the team, and Oklahoma City Thunder is a huge deal in Oklahoma City, and he was a regular on the sideline there at the arena - the Chesapeake Arena, of course, named after the company.

MCEVERS: Quickly - I mean, the Justice Department has said their bid-rigging investigation is ongoing, which means there might be additional indictments. Talk about that just a little bit.

WERTZ: Yeah, you know, it's bad news on top of bad news. The news of the indictment just broke Tuesday, so we don't have a lot of details. It's a bid-rigging charge, and the feds say that the charges that McClendon faced are part of an ongoing probe, so we just don't know a lot more - a lot of unanswered questions.

MCEVERS: That's Joe Wertz of State Impact Oklahoma. Thank you so much.

WERTZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe was a founding reporter for StateImpact Oklahoma (2011-2019) covering the intersection of economic policy, energy and environment, and the residents of the state. He previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly arts and entertainment correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla. and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.
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