Oil pioneer Aubrey McClendon, charged in bid rigging, dies in crash

Aubrey McClendon, the billionaire oilman who was instrumental in launching the U.S. shale energy revolution, died in a car crash in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. His death comes less than one day after the 56-year old was charged with rigging bids for oil and natural gas leases. McClendon drove his 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe “at a high rate of speed” and slammed into a bridge embankment in northeast Oklahoma City, Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma Police Department said at a press conference. The car burst into flames before responders could pull McClendon’s body from the vehicle. "The information out there at the scene is that he went left of center, went through a grassy area right before colliding into the embankment. There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway, and that didn’t occur," Balderrama said. McClendon’s rise in the North American energy arena was rapid. He grew to become a towering figure in the industry, building Chesapeake Energy Corp. from modest beginnings to vast energy empire, thanks to his nimble championing of controversial hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling at a time when larger, more established players were skeptical of shale’s potential. At its height in June, 2008, Chesapeake was valued at $35.6 billion. McClendon’s fall from grace was just as swift. The very gas boom he helped create caused prices to crater, reducing the company’s value by more than half within years. A shareholder revolt by Carl Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management Inc.’s O. Mason Hawkins cost the CEO his annual bonus and the chairmanship in 2012, and McClendon agreed to resign in January 2013. He was charged Tuesday by a federal grand jury in connection with orchestrating a scheme between two “large oil and gas companies” to not bid against each other for leases in northwest Oklahoma from December 2007 to March 2012, the Justice Department said Tuesday in a statement. McClendon called the charge “wrong and unprecedented”. (Bloomberg/David McLaughlin and Joe Carroll)

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