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Friday, March 4, 2016

Details Surface on Aubrey McClendon's Death, Along with Tributes from Some and Criticism from Anti-Drillers

In the wake of the shocking news of Aubrey McClendon's death on Wednesday, one day after he was indicted for conspiracy, there have been many articles.  We'll try to consolidate some of what has been written into this one post.

First, from USA Today comes more details regarding the automobile wreck that claimed McClendon's life:
A man told a 911 dispatcher that he had witnessed the crash from about a quarter-mile away, according to tapes released to USA TODAY by Oklahoma City police department Captain Paco Balderrama. 
"The accident looks pretty bad. The car looks like it might be on fire," the caller said. "It looks like they swerved and hit" the wall. 
Another man who drove up to the wreck told dispatchers that the Tahoe was "completely impacted within." 
"The cab is completely crushed. The vehicle is on fire," the man said. 
A woman in that caller's vehicle spoke up, telling dispatchers there were "two guys running up to the car right now." 
The man added, "It looks like either a nurse or doctor here and the fire is really escalating." 
The dispatcher called firefighters to send someone to the scene. The Tahoe "is almost engulfed in flames," she told firefighters. "The front end is completely gone." 
Soon after that, another woman alerted dispatchers that the vehicle was "like bursting into flames right now." 
The dispatcher called firefighters back to alert them that the "vehicle just exploded," according to audio of the calls.
Next, from the Akron Beacon Journal, comes an article looking at how McClendon was the man who pioneered the Utica shale boom and was the first to recognize the potential of what lied under the ground in Ohio:
Aubrey McClendon is the visionary individual behind the development of Ohio’s Utica Shale. 
In 2010, his Chesapeake Energy Corp., the No. 2 natural gas company in the United States, swept into eastern Ohio and quietly leased more than 1.5 million acres in 14 Ohio counties. It spent $2 billion on leases for a little-known rock. Carroll County was the center of Chesapeake’s leases. 
He got the drilling started in 2011 and Chesapeake remains Ohio’s No. driller with 813 horizontal wells in various stages of development. Each well costs in excess of $7 million. It is the No. 1 producer of natural gas and oil in Ohio. 
McClendon’s involvement also gave the Utica Shale credibility at a time when there many doubters. 
His most famous quote was that the Utica Shale was “the biggest thing to hit Ohio since the plow.” 
”It goes without saying that there would not be a Utica Shale except for Aubrey McClendon,” said Robert Chase, a retired professor and chair of the department of petroleum engineering and geology at Ohio’s Marietta College and an expert on the Utica Shale.
In news that comes as no surprise, given the fact that since last year American Energy Partners has been splitting apart and renaming various parts of its business in what seemed to be a very transparent attempt to form a separation between the companies and McClendon, Bloomberg Business had this report:
One of Aubrey McClendon’s biggest financial backers was cutting ties with him in the days before he was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on conspiracy charges, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
The Energy & Minerals Group, a private-equity firm led by John Raymond, was working on a plan to be completely independent of McClendon by the end of the month, and as of Feb. 26 the shale pioneer no longer had a leadership role at any of the companies created by the firm and McClendon’s American Energy Partners LP, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private investments. McClendon, 56, died in a car accident Wednesday, a day after the indictment was announced.
Meanwhile, one question that many no doubt have asked is what McClendon's death means for the federal conspiracy case that was being pursued.  Here is an MSN report on that topic:
A law enforcement source told CNBC that the Justice Department is expected to dismiss the case against McClendon, though the exact timetable is not certain. 
However, the source said that the broader federal antitrust investigation involving oil and gas industry leasing is ongoing. 
McClendon was defiant immediately after the indictment. "I will fight to prove my innocence and to clear my name," he said. Less than 24 hours later, police said he drove "straight into a wall" on a highway embankment in Oklahoma City at high speed while not wearing a seat belt. 
The indictment against McClendon, in the second paragraph, claims that he had a co-conspirator, who is as of now unnamed. However, the alleged co-conspirator was identified as being the CEO and chairman of the board of another company, also unnamed. 
Bloomberg News, citing multiple sources familiar with the matter, reported that SandRidge Energy is the unnamed company in the indictment, and noted that Tom Ward was CEO of the Oklahoma City company during the time period cited in the indictment. A spokesman for SandRidge Energy did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC.
Jim Cramer offered up a fond look back at McClendon via Real Money:
Aubrey championed natural gas as a fuel of the future and he proselytized endlessly about it to anyone, but I think sometimes especially to me. It was so logical, he would say. It is cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and ridiculously abundant. 
It's the latter point he really figured out, actually being among the first to discover the Eagle Ford in Texas and being the earliest to figure out that the Utica in Ohio would be bountiful. 
Unfortunately for shareholders in Chesapeake, it was bountiful alright, but bountiful with natural gas, not oil, and when I spent some time with him in Ohio he admitted he regretted there wasn't more oil there, because natural gas was too cheap to make a ton of money off of. 
That decision, though, got him in hot water with the board and ultimately got him fired. You see, he was right that we could be energy independent, because there is so much natural gas here, but wrong that the price could go up, because supply had overwhelmed demand. 
He had taken down too much debt and when prices collapsed, his company didn't have the money and had to sell off properties to meet cash flow. It's still doing it long after Aubrey parted. 
Now, I had no idea he was about to be caught up in a big rigging scandal. I did know it was well documented that he had side deals that allowed him to profit at what some believe was the regular shareholders' expense. 
All I know is he never lied to me and played with a totally open hand, including when he apologized to the Mad Money audience for going on margin and getting one of the biggest margin calls in history. 
I liked that. I liked him. He was a true American original who did a lot of charity, much of it not public, and preached something that nobody believed in until he was right, too right, it turned out, for his company to prosper. 
He will be missed.
Wenonah Hauter, who heads up the staunchly anti-drilling organization Food and Water Watch, didn't have similar glowing things to say about McClendon.  First, in a Facebook post which was published at just about the same time that news began to break of McClendon's death, Hauter had this to say:
It’s a common story. A rapacious energy baron is glorified by the center of power and finance as a visionary. Then come massive investor losses, clearly unethical behavior and now a grand jury indictment bringing total disgrace. While I’m not shedding any tears for McClendon, who is clearly a self- aggrandizing and greedy con-artist who ripped off investors and the owners of mineral rights, I will say that this kind of behavior has marked the oil and gas industry since the hey day of John D. Rockefeller. Kenneth Lay of Enron comes to mind as a more contemporary example. 
What set McClendon apart is his outsized hubris—a trait that is not illegal, but that inspires retribution. In the years before McClendon was finally pushed out of Chesapeake and gone on to other risky ventures, he’s been forced to swallow his pride—many times. But, he proved time and time again that outrageous and irresponsible greed is often glorified. Named by Forbes in 2010, “America’s most reckless billionaire,” he exemplifies the mythical American billionaire — a supposed genius of innovation and hard work — so popularized by the sycophant energy trade press and the mega-spin machine at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.
Hauter subsequently attempted to double down on her criticism, soften her remarks in an attempt to show respect for a dead man, and at the same time promote a book that she wrote in an article for EcoWatch:
The fact is, McClendon was a contemporary oil baron who at times excelled at high stakes financial gambling. When he was on a roll making billions, it came at the expense of the planet and people—whether it was the leaseholders he allegedly conspired against, the communities that fracking harmed or the impacts on our global climate. His story, from start to finish, is a tragedy all around. 
But he’s just one figure in the system that has helped bring about a boom in fracking, the continued reliance on fossil fuels and a system of market-based schemes masquerading as environmental “solutions” and being pushed by vested interests. The story I tell in Frackopoly doesn’t end or begin at McClendon, but he’s a major piece of the contemporary story of fracking and only the latest in a long line of oil and gas industry profiteers that have existed since the heyday of John D. Rockefeller.
In the end, McClendon certainly can't be summed up with a simple black or white argument.  He leaves behind a complicated legacy, with controversial decisions, lawsuits, questionable agreements and an indictment casting dark clouds over a lot of hard work, insight, and acts of kindness and generosity.

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