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21st Century Pioneer: Aubrey McClendon (1959-2016)

Like all great men, “Aub” made great mistakes and drew great opposition. Media, fossil fuel foes, competitors—particularly of the old school, large corporation variety—called him arrogant, greedy, reckless, and crooked. The Obama Presidential Administration spent years trying to find something with which to charge him. When they did, industry veterans hooted that the Feds’ single-count notion of “collusion” was standard operating procedure for more than a century in the oil patch, including by the landowners, and their banks, whom McClendon was supposedly attempting to squeeze.

In the end, his personal challenges squeezed him. They included his obsessive pursuit of growth and use of debt, to the tune of many billions of dollars. And, ironically, the historic success of his trailblazing natural gas exploration in shale rock, which lowered Americans’ gas prices but also his own profit margins.

Even his death was larger than life. Critics jeered that the flaming, supposedly suicidal, 88-m.p.h. car crash straight into a concrete wall with no seat belt, hours after being indicted and losing his primary funding source, proved that he was not such a big man after all.

One Oklahoma oilman who knew McClendon well laughed at such theories:

“He never wore a seat belt—he actually had them removed from