WASHINGTON, March 2, 2016 – Numerous sources are reporting this afternoon that Aubrey McClendon, a founder and the controversial former CEO of Chesapeake Energy (symbol: CHK), died Wednesday morning in a car crash in Oklahoma City at the age of 56.
Firefighters were quickly called to the scene on Midwest Blvd. between Memorial and 122nd St., where they discovered a mangled SUV that had burst into flames. They found a single victim who was pronounced dead at the scene—an individual later identified as McClendon.
McClendon’s death occurred less than a day after he was indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) with conspiring to rig bids for oil and natural gas leases while still Chesapeake’s CEO.
CNBC reports that, according to DOJ, “The conspiracy allegedly ran from December 2007 to March 2012, during which time [McClendon] was CEO of Chesapeake Energy.”
Speaking later to reporters, Oklahoma City police Captain Paco Balderrama said McClendon died instantly in what was described as a high-speed crash. In a report on local Oklahoma City TV station KFOR, Balderrama said McClendon
“…pretty much drove straight into the wall. The information out there at the scene is that he went left of center, went through a grassy area right before colliding into the embankment. There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”
Lacking additional evidence at this time, the police appear unwilling to describe McClendon’s death as a possible suicide.
Always known as something of a swashbuckler when it came to the always volatile energy business, McClendon was largely regarded as a living legend in Oklahoma City.
He achieved even greater popularity with the city’s sports fans as one of the main movers and shakers behind the surprise purchase of the NBA’s (National Basketball Association’s) Seattle Supersonics in 2007. The team was promptly moved to Oklahoma where they were re-named the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But in 2011, Forbes magazine charged that McClendon was “America’s most reckless billionaire” for what many in the financial and energy communities regarded as his overeager leasing—at inflated prices—of potential energy properties that leveraged Chesapeake to the hilt, potentially endangering the company’s finances—which is eventually exactly what happened.
It was largely due to this issue—plus questionable financial arrangements McClendon had made with the company that were regarded as too personal—that motivated the board of directors to oust McClendon from his position in 2012.
Due to the severe downturn in oil and gas prices—and thus in the value of oil and gas property leases—Chesapeake has consistently remained in severe financial straits in the years following McClendon’s departure.
McClendon later went on to found a similar company, American Energy Partners, LP, (AELP), a private oil and natural gas company based in Oklahoma City.