Chesapeake Energy: A big driller that's had some problems
It’s hard to find a Marcellus Shale driller that has been more prolific or more controversial than Chesapeake Energy.
The Oklahoma-based company was ahead of many others in capitalizing on the nation’s shale oil and gas boom. Its former CEO and co-founder Aubrey McClendon was a pioneer of fracking, but he was also a risk-taker who Forbes called “America’s most reckless billionaire” in a 2011 profile. McClendon resigned from Chesapeake in 2013 and started another energy company. He died in March 2016 after his car slammed into an overpass in Oklahoma City. The crash happened one day after McClendon was indicted on federal conspiracy charges, which he had denied and vowed to fight.
The fracking boom he and Chesapeake helped ignite led to a gas glut, which has suppressed prices and caused serious financial troubles for the company. In Pennsylvania and other parts of its country where it operates, Chesapeake has faced allegations it cheats landowners out of royalty money. The company has denied this. However, it’s the target of a number of class action lawsuits and a recent lawsuit by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. The investigative news outlet ProPublica has reported on how Chesapeake raised cash by slashing royalty payments.
In May 2011 the company was on the receiving end of the largest fine the Department of Environmental Protection had given out at that point (Range Resources has since received a larger fine). Chesapeake was fined for a February 2011 Washington County tank fire, and contaminating several drinking wells in Bradford County. Chesapeake voluntarily suspended hydraulic fracturing operations for three weeks in April and May 2011, after a Bradford County well spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of fracking fluid.
The Department of Justice has said McClendon’s indictment was the first case resulting from an ongoing probe “into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the oil and natural gas industry.”
When natural gas companies approached Charlie Clark and Jim Barrett about the minerals under their farms, the northern Pennsylvania landowners in neighboring counties both decided to let them drill.