The energy world was shocked on Wednesday when Aubrey McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, died in a car accident just one day after being indicted by the Department of Justice.
McClendon, 56, was an early advocate for the development of U.S. shale plays and was as influential as he was controversial.
A few years after graduating from Duke University, McClendon co-founded Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy in 1989 when he was just 29 years old.
He went on to preside over Chesapeake’s meteoric rise in the U.S. shale sector that saw the company’s share price rocket from $1.35 in February of 1993 to a high of $66 per share in July 2008.
That same year, McClendon earned the top spot on the Associated Press’s list of best paid chief executives with a pay package worth $112.5 million even though the company’s stock price had plummeted 60 percent.
Chesapeake’s earnings began to erode further as U.S. natural gas supplies ballooned in 2011 thanks to industry wide interest in the very same shale plays that McClendon had championed.
As his company was reeling from the gas glut, Reuters published an investigation that would eventually push McClendon out of the company he helped found.
The investigation, published in June 2012, found that McClendon mingled personal and corporate business, including using company resources and employees to handle personal work and taking out $1.55 billion in loans from Chesapeake backers to fund his own stake in Chesapeake’s Founders Well Participation Program.
Amid the Reuters investigation McClendon was stripped of his chairmanship and eventually ousted from Chesapeake Energy in 2013.
McClendon went on to found American Energy Partners in April of 2013 where he served as CEO until his death.
In the wake of McClendon’s exit, Chesapeake Energy faced a number of legal battles tied to its land leasing and royalty payment practices.
In April 2015, the company agreed to pay $25 million to settle antitrust, racketeering and fraud charges filed by Michigan’s attorney general for alleged collusion during a lease auction and improperly cancelled leases.
Although the Michigan settlement came two years after McClendon’s departure federal investigators uncovered potential issues with Chesapeake’s leasing practices in Oklahoma during his tenure.
Late Tuesday, the U.S Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury had indicted McClendon on charges of conspiring to rig bids for the purchase of oil and natural gas leases.
The DOJ alleged that McClendon had “orchestrated” a conspiracy between “two large oil and gas companies” from December 2007 to March 2012 to collaborate on bids for oil and gas leases in northwest Oklahoma.
The conspirators allegedly decided who would place the winning bid ahead of time, with the winner then allocating an interest in the lease to the other company.
McClendon denied any wrongdoing and said the charge was ” 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,” McClendon said in a statement.
Barely a day after news of the indictment broke, McClendon was involved in a deadly car crash in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Police Captain Paco Balderrama told reporters that McClendon was “travelling a high rate of speed” when he crossed the highway’s center line and crashed his 2013 Chevy Tahoe into a bridge embankment.
The car was immediately engulfed in flames.
“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Balderrama said.
McClendon is survived by his wife and three children.
“We are tremendously proud of his legacy and will continue to work hard to live up to the unmatched standards he set for excellence and integrity. We will deeply mourn his loss and please join us in expressing our condolences to his family,” American Energy said on Wednesday.