Energy pioneer McClendon dies in Oklahoma car crash a day after indictment

By Heidi Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – Aubrey McClendon, a brash risk-taker who led Chesapeake Energy Corp to become one of the world’s biggest natural gas producers, died in a single-car crash on Wednesday, a day after being charged with breaking federal antitrust laws, police said. He was 56.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that McClendon had been indicted for allegedly colluding to rig bids for oil and gas acreage while he was at Chesapeake, a central player in the U.S. fracking revolution of the past decade. He denied the charges.

Police said they were investigating the cause of the crash, which occurred when McClendon was driving his 2013 Chevy Tahoe on a sparsely populated, two-lane road.

The crash occurred about 8 miles (13 km) from American Energy Partners, which McClendon had founded and where he was the chairman and chief executive. He was not wearing a seat belt.

McClendon, who was revered in oil and gas circles as a visionary, resigned from Chesapeake in 2013 after a corporate governance crisis and investor concerns over his heavy spending.

After leaving Chesapeake, McClendon went on to start American Energy Partners and, with the help of private equity funds, made billions of dollars in bets on vast tracts of oil and gas land around the United States and Australia.

Tuesday’s indictment followed a nearly four-year federal antitrust probe that began after a 2012 Reuters investigation found that Chesapeake had discussed with a rival how to suppress land lease prices in Michigan during a shale-drilling boom. Although the Michigan case was subsequently closed, investigators uncovered evidence of alleged bid-rigging in Oklahoma.


A native of Oklahoma, McClendon attended Duke University before starting Chesapeake with his friend Tom Ward, who went on to lead SandRidge Energy Inc for a time.

“Aubrey’s tremendous leadership, vision and passion for the energy industry had an impact on the community, the country and the world,” American Energy Partners said in a statement.

McClendon was known for his high tolerance for risk and debt and for his lavish lifestyle, which included the purchase of high-end homes, antique boats and an extensive wine cellar.

On his watch, Chesapeake leased a fleet of planes that shuttled executives to oil and gas fields – and the McClendon family to far-off holiday destinations.

Closer to home, McClendon pursued other passions, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, the National Basketball Association franchise in which he had a minority stake.

“I think in situations like this the best thing you can do is just pray, pray for the family and pray for the people involved,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters at a game on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

McClendon was one of the foremost leaders of a U.S. energy boom that lifted output to the highest levels in years, reduced reliance on foreign oil and mobilized new pools of investment capital for wildcat drillers.

“I’ve known Aubrey McClendon for nearly 25 years. He was a major player in leading the stunning energy renaissance in America,” Texas energy investor T. Boone Pickens said in a statement. “He was charismatic and a true American entrepreneur,” he said.

Chesapeake, which had recently sued McClendon’s AEP on accusations of stealing trade secrets, offered condolences.

“Chesapeake is deeply saddened by the news that we have heard today and our thoughts and prayers are with the McClendon family,” the company said in a statement.

McClendon is survived by his wife, Katie, and their three children, Jack, Callie and Will.

(Additional reporting by Liz Hampton and Ernest Scheyder in Houston, Jessica Resnick Ault in New York and Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Writing by Terry Wade and Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Leslie Adler, Greg Mahlich)