Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

How Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon Helped Push Coal to the Brink

The indicted, and now deceased, natural gas pioneer was a primary funder of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign.

Aubrey McClendon, the former Chesapeake Energy CEO, died March 2 in a car wreck the day after being indicted for conspiracy to rig bids on oil and natural gas leases. He will likely be remembered for two things: being a pioneer of the shale gas boom and a possible criminal who, in death, may have eluded a prison sentence.

But McClendon may have had one other lasting legacy: he helped hasten the collapse of the coal industry in the United States.

Between 2007 and 2012, McClendon and his associates contributed around $26 million to the Sierra Club to oppose the building of new coal-fired power plants. McClendon’s motivations were hardly pure; he knew that preventing new coal plants meant more demand for his company’s product, natural gas. And the contributions led to a scandal for the environmental group, whose well-funded “Beyond Coal” campaign has been instrumental in not only preventing new plants, but also shutting down aging ones.

Executive director Michael Brune had a simple explanation for accepting money from a big gas company that was drilling hundreds of wells using hydraulic fracturing: the enemy of our enemy is our friend. “The Sierra Club board of directors … determined that natural gas, while far from ideal as a fuel source, might play a necessary role in helping us reach the clean energy future our children deserve,” Brune wrote in a 2012 blog post. “The idea was that we shared at least one common purpose [with Chesapeake]—to move our country away from dirty coal."

The Sierra Club turned down further contributions from McClendon and his Chesapeake colleagues as it began to worry about the boom in natural gas fracking. That didn’t affect the outcome: McClendon’s philanthropy helped make it very unlikely that any new coal plants will be built in the U.S.—and helped push coal, the backbone of America’s power sector for more than a century, into a sudden and dramatic twilight.

(Read more: Jigar Shah on LinkedIn Pulse“Protests Rise as China Lays Off Millions of Coal Workers,” “Supreme Court Decision Unlikely to Stall the Shift Away from Coal Plants”)

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.