Shale gas pioneer dies in crash a day after indictment

Police said the car driven by Mr McClendon was travelling at "well above" the 65kmh speed limit before he "pretty much drove straight into the wall".
Police said the car driven by Mr McClendon was travelling at "well above" the 65kmh speed limit before he "pretty much drove straight into the wall".PHOTO: REUTERS
Police said the car driven by Mr McClendon (above) was travelling at "well above" the 65kmh speed limit before he "pretty much drove straight into the wall".
Police said the car driven by Mr McClendon (above) was travelling at "well above" the 65kmh speed limit before he "pretty much drove straight into the wall". PHOTO: REUTERS

OKLAHOMA CITY • Former Chesapeake Energy chief executive Aubrey McClendon, a brash risk-taker who helped transform the United States energy industry with shale gas, died when his car slammed into an overpass on Wednesday, one day after he was charged with breaking federal antitrust laws, police said. He was 56.

Mr McClendon was alone in his 2013 Chevy Tahoe when it sped into an embankment along a remote two-lane road in Oklahoma City, where it burst into flames, a police spokesman said. The cause of death will be determined later by a medical examiner, the spokesman said.

The crash occurred less than 24 hours after the US Department of Justice announced that Mr McClendon had been indicted for allegedly colluding to rig bids for oil and gas acreage while he was at Chesapeake. He had denied the charges.

At a press briefing in Oklahoma City, Captain Paco Balderrama said Mr McClendon's car was travelling at "well above" the 65kmh speed limit before he "pretty much drove straight into the wall". He was not wearing a seat belt.

Industry executives and state officials remembered Mr McClendon as a "visionary" who ushered in a new era of US energy abundance by pursuing the hydraulic fracturing technology that would unlock decades' worth of domestic natural gas and oil resources.

Over more than two decades, he built Chesapeake from a small wildcatter into one of the world's biggest natural gas producers before resigning in 2013, following a corporate governance crisis and investor concerns over his heavy spending.

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.

Closer to home, Mr McClendon was revered for helping to bolster the Oklahoma economy and revitalise its biggest city, including landing its first major sports franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, in which he had a minority stake.

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

The energy pioneer is survived by his wife Katie and their three children.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Shale gas pioneer dies in crash a day after indictment'. Print Edition | Subscribe