Aubrey McClendon, who built a fortune in shale gas by buying up fields across the United States, was killed Wednesday when his car ran off a highway into a bridge in Oklahoma, authorities said. His death, at 56, came a day after he was indicted on federal charges of conspiring to suppress prices paid for oil and natural gas leases.
McClendon, the former CEO’of Chesapeake Energy, was to appear in court later in the day.
The Oklahoma City police said the crash occurred at high speed.
“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Capt. Paco Balderrama said.
The car was found engulfed in flames.
American Energy Partners, a company that McClendon co-founded in 2014 after leaving Chesapeake Energy, released a statement confirming the death., adding, “We will deeply mourn his loss, and please join us in expressing our condolences to his family.”
Under McClendon’s leadership, Chesapeake and a handful of other companies transformed the U.S. face of energy and pioneered hydraulic fracturing in newly explored shale fields.
But the boom he helped create resulted in a glut of natural gas, which has sent the stock of Chesapeake and several other companies falling, pushing some to the brink of bankruptcy.
Chesapeake’s shares have been sinking for most of the past five years, especially after it was revealed that McClendon had taken a personal stake in Chesapeake wells and then used those investments as collateral for up to $1.1 billion in loans used mostly to pay for his share of the cost of drilling those wells.
Last year, Chesapeake settled charges of antitrust, fraud and racketeering violations by agreeing to pay $25 million as compensation to landowners with leases.
McClendon and his wife were big donors to Duke University, their alma mater. McClendon was on the steering committee of the university’s current fundraising campaign.
The couple had donated at least $16 million to Duke, according to a 2005 news release. Their gifts built a student plaza outside the Bryan Center, an organ for the Divinity School and a refurbished organ for Duke Chapel. Part of a residence hall complex is named McClendon Tower. At its 2002dedication, Duke surprised the McClendons with gargoyles above a door sculpted to look like the couple. The gargoyles were later removed at the McClendons’ request.