Energy mogul Aubrey McClendon was pronounced dead yesterday after a dramatic car crash. The accident was just one day after the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy was indicted by a federal grand jury for an alleged conspiracy scheme.
The Oklahoma City Police Department says McClendon was alone and driving extremely fast when he collided with an overpass wall just after 9 a.m. Wednesday. Fox News reported that the vehicle, a 2013 Chevy Tahoe, was overwhelmed with fire when emergency responders arrived.
Investigators have determined he was not wearing a seatbelt, and speed was certainly a factor. They are looking into the possibility that McClendon may have hit the wall on purpose, but say it will be at least a week before the crash investigation is complete.
“There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the road, but that did not happen,” said Captain Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma City police.
McClendon started Chesapeake Energy in 1989 with $50,000 and grew the company into a shale oil and natural gas juggernaut. Many industry leaders considered him an innovator in the energy business.
Oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, who knew McClendon for almost 25 years, thought of him as a vital participant in the revitalization of the U.S. energy industry.
“No individual is without flaws, but his impact on American energy will be long-lasting,” Pickens said in a statement.
In 2013, McClendon was forced out of Chesapeake by the new board of directors amid significant differences in opinion regarding the company’s direction. Later, it was discovered that the former exec had borrowed in excess of $1 billion to fund his extravagant lifestyle using a personal stake in the company as collateral.
Shortly thereafter, McClendon attempted a comeback. In less than three years, he raised $14 billion and started a new company, American Energy Partners LP, just a few blocks down the road.
When news that McClendon died reached Chesapeake, the company issued a statement offering thoughts and prayers to the family.
McClendon was also co-owner of the Oklahoma Thunder basketball team. The business executive was often spotted in his courtside seats.
Oklahoma Thunder Chairman Clayton Bennett said he was deeply saddened after hearing of McClendon’s death. Bennett saw McClendon as a committed and trustworthy business partner.
McClendon was well-known in the Oklahoma City community for his support of local charities, schools, and universities. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said the energy tycoon will be remembered for his generosity and ability to create economic growth opportunities in Oklahoma City.
Just one day before McClendon died, he was indicted for a conspiracy scheme that stretched from 2007 to 2012. The Department of Justice claimed the former CEO manipulated the price of natural gas and oil leases.
The DOJ contends McClendon used his power to convince two other unnamed energy companies not to bid against each when buying several oil and natural gas leases in Oklahoma. According to the indictment, the companies agreed ahead of time who would win the leases and then share in the profits.
Just after the indictment, McClendon said the charges against him were unwarranted and denied any laws were broken.
“The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented. Anyone who knows me, my business record and the industry in which I have worked for 35 years, knows that I could not be guilty of violating any antitrust laws.”
If McClendon were to be convicted, he would have served up to 10 years in prison.
The DOJ has since offered condolences to McClendon’s family. Spokesman Mark Abueg would not speculate on how his death would influence the case.
People who knew Aubrey McClendon described him as a fearless leader and risk-taker with a net worth wildly fluctuating in tandem with the ups and downs of the energy market. He was 56-years-old when he died and is survived by his wife, Katie, and three children.
[Photo by AP Photo]