The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 1, 2013

Aubrey McClendon’s ouster from Chesapeake cautionary tale for the energy industry

Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — To anyone closely following the Oklahoma energy industry, the announcement of Chesapeake Energy Corp. founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon’s pending departure from the company comes as no surprise.

The embattled executive will step down April 1 even though Chesapeake says a review of his business dealings has not revealed improper conduct, The Associated Press reports. It’s no April Fools’ Day joke.

McClendon, 53, founded the company 24 years ago and pushed it to acquire drilling rights to huge amounts of land. The strategy landed the company promising assets — and enormous debt as natural gas prices plunged.

A plan that allowed McClendon to invest personally in the company’s wells came under renewed scrutiny last year, and he was forced to step aside as board chairman.

McClendon, a visionary known for his wildcatter’s mentality, is a larger-than-life figure in Oklahoma City, where the company has greatly expanded.

You’ve seen him sitting courtside with Oklahoma City Thunder Chairman Clayton Bennett. In fact, McClendon reportedly owns 19.2 percent of the NBA franchise. Reuters reported a source claiming Chesapeake’s relationship with the Thunder wouldn’t change.

McClendon made headlines turning OKC into a “Big League City,” luring the first Whole Foods Market to the metro and improving quality of life.

Many in Oklahoma City and throughout the state were questioning the future of McClendon at Chesapeake. As the company moved forward with changes in compensation and corporate governance, nonprofits wondered how charitable spending would be affected.

McClendon’s ouster serves as a cautionary tale for Oklahoma’s energy industry. We should scrutinize highly leveraged growth strategies in the future.

Company executives shouldn’t let the good times lull them into questionable judgment.