Less than 24 hours after shale billionaire Aubrey K. McClendon was charged by the U.S. Justice Department with conspiracy to suppress prices paid for oil and natural gas leases, the ex-Chesapeake executive and the CEO of American Energy Partners, died in a tragic car-crash in a remote two-lane road in Oklahoma City.
The crash occurred on Wednesday, when McClendon’s 2013 Chevy Tahoe – in the words of Captain Paco Balderrama – “pretty much drove straight into the wall” before bursting into flames. At a press briefing in Oklahoma City, Captain Balderrama said McClendon was traveling at “well above” the 40 mile per hour speed limit and he was not wearing a seat belt.
“There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct or get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur,” Balderrama said.
Reuters reported that it may take one to two weeks to complete an investigation into the accident, which occurred about 8 miles (13 km) from offices of American Energy Partners, the company that McClendon founded shortly after leaving Chesapeake. The investigation will shed light on the cause of the accident and whether – as some have suggested – his death was a suicide.
“I’d say he aimed for that bridge support,” Rusty Haight, director of the Collision Safety Institute in San Diego, who has examined photos and videos of the crash, told Yahoo Finance. “He was going into that bridge support. It’s the only thing in the area.” Some circumstantial evidence of the crash, such as a lack of prominent skid marks close to the bridge, also point to a possible suicide.
Aubrey K McClendon was forced to step down as chief executive in April 2013 after allegations that he mixed his private finances with those of the company. He subsequently formed American Energy Partners – a company which has been actively investing in exploration in the U.S. and abroad – most recently in Australia and Argentina.
“Aubrey’s tremendous leadership, vision and passion for the energy industry had an impact on the community, the country and the world. We are tremendously proud of his legacy,” American Energy Partners said in a statement.
They also said that “Aubrey would want us to persevere and continue his extraordinary legacy of innovation and creativity,” adding: “While Aubrey’s absence will leave a tremendous void on the AELP platform, we employ a talented team of individuals that will be available to support, if needed, the existing businesses and it will carry on the new business development tradition established by our founder, friend and mentor, Aubrey K. McClendon.”
The indictment against McClendon on the grounds of collusion to rig land lease prices – dating back to when he was the CEO of Chesapeake Energy – could result in a maximum penalty of a $1m fine and up to 10 years in prison for the billionaire, who denied all charges.
Following the tragic crash, as expected, federal prosecutors have moved to dismiss the indictment of Aubrey McClendon, “for the reason that such action would best meet the ends of justice in that the defendant is now deceased.”
Aubrey McClendon was a figure mired in controversy, both by his brushes with the antitrust law as well as by his aggressive expansion strategy which left Chesapeake with debt that the company hasn’t managed to shake off even under new leadership. He will, however, be remembered by many as a visionary who believed in the prospects of U.S. shale when hardly anybody else did, and contributed greatly to America’s – unforeseen by many – energy independence.
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