Drilling Down

Former Chesapeake CEO McClendon Killed in Car Crash

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Aubrey McClendon, the wildcat driller and former CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp., was killed Wednesday morning in a car crash one day after he was indicted by the federal government for allegedly rigging bids to buy oil and gas leases in Oklahoma.

A video of a press conference posted on the Oklahoma City Police Department’s Facebook page confirmed that the fatality involved in the crash of a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe was McClendon.

According to Police Chief Paco Balderrama, McClendon’s vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed and crashed into the base of a bridge. “His vehicle was engulfed in flames immediately and he did not survive the accident,” Balderrama said.

A police report released Thursday stated that McClendon’s vehicle was traveling “at a high rate of speed when his vehicle went left of center and struck a concrete bridge abutment on the west side of the roadway.” McClendon was the sole occupant of the vehicle and was not wearing a seatbelt.

Balderrama said it would take officials about a week or two to fully investigate the accident.

McClendon was regarded as one of the pioneers in shale gas exploration in the country while heading Chesapeake Energy Corp., which expanded under his tenure to the second-largest producer of natural gas in the United States.

In 2010, Chesapeake was among the first of the major energy producers to move into eastern Ohio’s Utica shale, attaining more than a million acres under lease. This acreage included land in Mahoning and Columbiana counties. Three years ago, McClendon was forced out by shareholders who questioned the CEO’s use of his stake in the company’s gas wells to leverage more than $1 billion in personal loans.

McClendon then started American Energy Partners L.P., which also staked out a position in the southern tier of Ohio’s Utica shale.

A statement from American Energy Partners praised McClendon for his vision and leadership. “Aubrey’s tremendous leadership, vision, and passion for the energy industry had an impact on the community, the country and the world. We will deeply mourn his loss and please join us in expressing our condolences to his family,” the statement said.

Chesapeake Energy, the company that McClendon founded, also released a statement saying that the company is “deeply saddened by the news that we have heard today and our thoughts and prayers are with the McClendon family during this difficult time.”

On Tuesday, the federal government indicted McClendon, accusing him of conspiring with an unnamed company not to bid against each other for oil and gas leases in Oklahoma.

States the indictment: “Beginning at least as early as December 2007 and continuing until at least as late as March 2012 … McClendon and his co-conspirators knowingly entered into and engaged in a combination and conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by rigging bids for certain leasehold interests and producing properties. The combination and conspiracy engaged in by [McClendon] and his co-conspirators was in unreasonable restraint of interstate commerce in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

McClendon responded to the indictment by calling the charges “wrong and unprecedented. I have been singled out as the only person in the oil and gas industry in over 110 years since the Sherman Act became law to have been accused of this crime in relation to joint bidding on leasehold,” he said in a statement.

McClendon’s attorneys accused the Justice Department of “prosecutorial overreach” in their prepared statement:

“The Justice Department has taken business practices well-known in the Oklahoma and American energy industries that were intended to, and did in fact, enhance competition and lower energy costs and twisted these business practices to allege an antitrust violation that did not occur.

“In response to criticism of their past charging practices and in the name of a new policy to be tough on individuals, the prosecutors have wrongfully singled out Aubrey McClendon and have wrongly charged an innocent man. A charge is one thing. Proving the case is another. Starting today, Aubrey gets his day in court where we will show that this prosecutorial overreach was completely unjustified.”

McClendon, 56, was also part-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.