Aubrey McClendon, who died suddenly on Wednesday, was considered an ambitious risk-taker, a dreamer, at times reckless and shrewd, but there is no denying that for a time, as the chief architect of Chesapeake Energy Corp., he was the King of Shale, overseeing the largest store of natural gas leaseholds in the country.
But there was another side to the lanky energy titan, who is being remembered for his countless contributions to his beloved hometown, Oklahoma City.
McClendon, 56, was killed Wednesday in a one-vehicle accident one day after he was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly rigging bids to buy leases in northwest Oklahoma (see Shale Daily, March 2a; March 2b). An investigation into the accident’s cause continues, as does an outpouring from admirers and colleagues.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Gregory Zuckerman talked about McClendon’s legacy on Friday. Three years ago Zuckerman wrote the bestseller, The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, about how the onshore energy revolution unfolded (see Shale Daily, Nov. 5, 2013). He interviewed dozens of top industry leaders, including the late George Mitchell, credited with successfully combining hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to unearth commercial natural gas from the Barnett Shale. McClendon and Chesapeake co-founder Tom Ward, who went on to form SandRidge Energy Co., were considered instrumental to the industry’s growth, Zuckerman told NGI‘s Shale Daily.
“No one believed in the potential and possibilities of this country more than Aubrey, and there may be no one more responsible for the American energy renaissance,” he said. “He and Tom Ward were among the first to realize George Mitchell was on to something, and that shale formations all over the country could produce huge amounts of gas, even as the experts and all the majors scoffed.
“Corporate governance wasn’t exactly his strong suit, and Chesapeake shareholders are suffering from the debt he piled on. But over the course of his career, he did deliver good returns for shareholders and will be remembered as a key architect of the country’s remarkable surge in energy production, which is pressuring Russia, Iran, the Saudis and others we once depended on.”
Energy analysts were stunned by McClendon’s death, “one of our generation’s notable visionaries and pioneers,” said Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH).
“It often takes tragedy to jolt us into perspective on what is important in life…the people and relationships that shape it…Aubrey crossed paths with many of us at TPH over many years and we fondly remember him with these words — moneymaker, controversial, visionary, risk-taker, pioneer, wildcatter, force of nature, fearless, indomitable, cajoling, opinionated, one-of a-kind. Those traits also made his successes and stumbles larger than life.
“Aubrey was not only passionate about energy but was a champion of public service, philanthropy and good works. His was an uncommonly sharp and active mind, fueled by boundless intellectual curiosity. Aubrey’s complex and interesting persona added intrigue and fun to our day-to-day professional lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the McClendon family and his numerous friends and associates. We will miss his presence on the global energy stage.”
Oklahoma leaders and Oklahoma City residents reflected on McClendon’s impact, a job-creator who was instrumental in helping to make over the city — and the country.
The editorial board of Oklahoma City’s The Oklahoman, said McClendon “may have had his critics,” in part because of his “undeniable success in a tough energy industry. He understood that and never sweated it. He was too busy working to make his companies, and his city, better.” He was “instrumental in transforming Oklahoma City into the thriving community it is today. His positive impact will last for years, long after the headlines of this week are forgotten…
“Throughout his professional life, McClendon was a disruptive force for change. And that disruption, more often than not, was to the benefit of Oklahoma City. For that, we owe McClendon our enduring gratitude and sympathies to his cherished family.”
McClendon’s prowess in making over the U.S. energy industry will be everlasting, but Oklahoma City also lays claim to being positively transformed by his enthusiasm and largess. He often could be seen cheering courtside for the Oklahoma Thunder, a basketball team he was instrumental in bringing to town and which he co-owned. He also was behind the scenes in bringing top eateries to the city and is credited with rebuilding the neglected downtown and waterfront area. He helped to create, among other things, the renowned OKC Boathouse Foundation and Boathouse District.
Crosstown competitor Devon Energy Corp. said the charismatic CEO had “played an instrumental role in America’s energy renaissance. His philanthropic efforts and other contributions have helped countless people.” Legendary wildcatter T. Boone Pickens, who shared McClendon’s enthusiasm for spreading the good news about natural gas, called him “a major player in leading the stunning energy renaissance in America. No individual is without flaws, but his impact on American energy will be long-lasting.”
The Energy & Minerals Group CEO John T. Raymond, whose firm was, for a time, the major sponsor of many of McClendon’s ventures, both at Chesapeake and American Energy Partners LP (AELP), said his “extraordinary talent and leadership in forming and ultimately guiding each business and management team to independence with such success and scale is unprecedented. We will greatly miss his perspective and the unbridled optimism and enthusiasm he brought to everything he did and to everyone with whom he worked.”
McClendon’s legacy will live on in the independent management teams he helped create, Raymond said. “His insatiable, thought-inspiring intellectual curiosity to always find the good in everything and make it better, which manifested itself through dozens of philanthropic organizations and efforts, will be greatly missed, particularly in his dearly loved hometown of Oklahoma City,” Raymond said. “While we remain proud of our partnership with him, we are most deeply saddened by the loss of a friend.”
Gov. Mary Fallin said he would be remembered “for his innovations in the oil and natural gas industry, his civic generosity and being a driving force to help grow economic opportunities for Oklahoma City. He was a visionary who raised the profile of Oklahoma.” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he would remember McClendon’s “generosity and civic pride in our community…” And Oklahoma State University President V. Burns Hargis, a former Chesapeake board member, called McClendon “one of the most visionary and brilliant people I’ve ever met. He was a difference-maker and a key player in the shale revolution in America…”
Former Chesapeake employee E. Blake Jackson posted an online tribute. “He always walked with purpose — he took fast, deliberate, long strides,” he said. “But once he arrived at wherever he was going, he seemed almost unnaturally laid back…It felt like you were on his level, even though you clearly were not.”
“Aubrey McClendon was the energy behind the dream that has become the OKC Boathouse Foundation and the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River,” said OKC Boathouse Foundation Director Mike Knopp. “His innovative spirit, kindness and generosity will long be remembered.”
An outpouring of respect for McClendon’s contributions was posted in tributes in an online guest book. “It’s like a death in the family,” said one.
“I will never forget my first day working at CHK and meeting Aubrey,” said another. “He was always visible on campus, sometimes buying breakfast for us. He was always charismatic and nobody could do a town hall like he could. He was not the kind of CEO that was unapproachable, and he encouraged giving…He loved this city and his employees. It showed.”
The Hornburger family of Moore, OK, said being in Oklahoma City “and not thinking of him will be impossible; his vision is everywhere. He has done so much for me, my family and the great state of Oklahoma.”
McClendon, wrote Bill Mathis, “will forever remind me of George Bailey in Frank Capra’s celebrated movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Like George, he inspired so many to love their community and neighbors. He was a visionary and demonstrated unbridled bravery. He always worked hard, yet still found time to be a wonderful father and courageous giver to others. Well done Aubrey, may God receive you into his loving arms and give comfort to your family.”
AELP, which McClendon founded after leaving Chesapeake in 2013, is moving forward. “While all of the employees at AELP are deeply saddened by this tragic event, we are firm in our conviction that Aubrey would want us to persevere and continue his extraordinary legacy of innovation and creativity,” the management team said Thursday.
Two memorials have been announced. On Saturday, a sunrise memorial open to the community was planned to begin about 6:30 a.m. along the Oklahoma River, starting along the shoreline in front of the original Chesapeake Boathouse on Lincoln Boulevard. Rowers and paddlers were invited to launch their boats in quiet meditation.
A public memorial service also is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Crossings Community Church, 14600 N. Portland Ave. in Oklahoma City. The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County, P.O. Box 18701, Oklahoma City, OK 73154. City officials said they were expecting large crowds at Monday’s services.
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