Key natural gas benchmark sinks even lower after death of shale icon

The NYMEX futures price of natural gas continues to slump while the energy world digests the news of the sudden death of shale industry icon Aubrey McClendon.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) posted data early March 3 that shows the price of April delivery of Henry Hub natural gas has fallen to $1.68/mmBtu.

As of March 1, the EIA had listed the benchmark price at $1.74/mmBtu. One year earlier the gas price was listed by EIA at $2.69/mmBtu. Meanwhile, a public figure closely associated with development of cheap natural gas from domestic shale has died in a car crash.

On March 2 both trade publications and national media reported that former Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) Co-Founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon had died in a single-vehicle crash one day after being named in federal indictments related to bid rigging. McClendon reportedly was killed in Oklahoma City when his vehicle hit a bridge at a high rate of speed on March 3.

In the New York Times, T. Boone Pickens described McClendon, 56, as “charismatic and a true American entrepreneur.” McClendon was also a part-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketball franchise.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday March 1 announced that McClendon had been indicted 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.

After being indicted, McClendon issued a statement on March 1 denying the charge.

“The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented. I have been singled out as the only person in the oil and gas industry in over 110 years since the Sherman Act became law to have been accused of this crime in relation to joint bidding on leasehold,” McClendon said.

“Anyone who knows me, my business record and the industry in which I have worked for 35 years, knows that I could not be guilty of violating any antitrust laws.  All my life I have worked to create jobs in Oklahoma, grow its economy, and to provide abundant and affordable energy to all Americans. I am proud of my track record in this industry, and I will fight to prove my innocence and to clear my name,” McClendon went on to say in the statement.

McClendon’s attorneys said that: “The Justice Department has taken business practices well-known in the Oklahoma and American energy industries that were intended to, and did in fact, enhance competition and lower energy costs and twisted these business practices to allege an antitrust violation that did not occur.  In response to criticism of their past charging practices and in the name of a new policy to be tough on individuals, the prosecutors have wrongfully singled out Aubrey McClendon and have wrongly charged an innocent man.  A charge is one thing.  Proving the case is another.  Starting today, Aubrey gets his day in court where we will show that this prosecutorial overreach was completely unjustified.”

In late January 2013, Chesapeake Energy announced that McClendon had agreed to retire from the company. Chesapeake Energy also announced that an internal probe had cleared McClendon of any improper benefits stemming from financial relationships involving the company.

Back in April 2012, GenerationHub spoke to McClendon at a power industry conference in Las Vegas. During his speech and interview, McClendon referred to natural gas as the only “scalable and affordable” alternative for new baseload generation. Natural gas from “unconventional” sources like shale has driven down gas prices to 10-year lows, he noted.

“Natural gas is no longer a bridge fuel” and “should be viewed as baseload fuel for decades to come,” McClendon told the conference, which was sponsored by Platts.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.