(Reuters) – Aubrey McClendon, a brash risk-taker who led Chesapeake Energy Corp to become one of the world’s biggest natural gas producers, died in a single-car crash on Wednesday one day after being charged with breaking federal antitrust laws, police said. He was 56.
U.S. Department of Justice indicted McClendon on Tuesday for allegedly colluding to rig bids for oil and gas acreage while he was at Chesapeake, a central player in the U.S. fracking revolution of the past decade. He denied the charges.
Police said they were investigating the cause of the crash, which occurred when McClendon was driving his 2013 Chevy Tahoe. Police said the vehicle was so badly burned in the crash they were unable to tell if McClendon was wearing his seat belt.
CNBC reported police said McClendon was not wearing a seat belt.
Police said they had been contacted by McClendon’s company, American Energy Partners.
“They contacted us, and said, We know you guys are working on a wreck and Mr. McClendon is missing,” said Captain Paco Balderrama of the Oklahoma City police department. “They just knew their boss was missing.”
McClendon, who was revered in oil and gas circles as a visionary, resigned from Chesapeake in 2013 after a corporate governance crisis and investor concerns over his heavy spending.
Tuesday’s indictment followed a nearly four-year federal antitrust probe that began after a 2012 Reuters investigation found that Chesapeake had discussed with a rival how to suppress land lease prices in Michigan during a shale-drilling boom. Although the Michigan case was subsequently closed, investigators uncovered evidence of alleged bid-rigging in Oklahoma.
After leaving Chesapeake, McClendon went on to start American Energy Partners and, with the help of private equity funds, made billions of dollars in bets on vast tracts of oil and gas land around the United States and Australia.
“VISION AND PASSION”
A native of Oklahoma, McClendon attended Duke University before starting Chesapeake with his friend Tom Ward, who went on to lead SandRidge Energy Inc for a time.
“Aubrey’s tremendous leadership, vision and passion for the energy industry had an impact on the community, the country and the world. We are tremendously proud of his legacy,” American Energy Partners said in a statement.
McClendon was known for his high tolerance for risk and debt and for his lavish lifestyle, which included the purchase of high-end homes, antique boats and an extensive wine cellar.
On his watch, Chesapeake leased a fleet of planes that shuttled executives to oil and gas fields – and the McClendon family to far-off holiday destinations.
Closer to home, McClendon pursued other passions, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, the National Basketball Association franchise in which he had a minority stake.
He was one of the foremost leaders of a U.S. energy boom that lifted output to the highest levels in years, reduced reliance on foreign oil and mobilized new pools of investment capital for wildcat drillers.
“I’ve known Aubrey McClendon for nearly 25 years. He was a major player in leading the stunning energy renaissance in America,” Texas energy investor T. Boone Pickens said in a statement.
Chesapeake, which had recently sued McClendon’s AEP on accusations of stealing trade secrets, offered condolences.
“Chesapeake is deeply saddened by the news that we have heard today and our thoughts and prayers are with the McClendon family during this difficult time,” the company said in a statement.
(This story was updated with additional information)