Chesapeake Eneregy: From CEOs Aubrey McClendon to Doug Lawler, A Short History

Timeline: Looking back at departing Chesapeake Energy CEO Doug Lawler's time with the company

Robb Hibbard Oklahoman 4/27/2021

Chesapeake Energy and Doug Lawler are parting ways, the company announced Tuesday morning.

Lawler was brought in to the company as its CEO in 2013, after Chesapeake's board cut ties with founder Aubrey McClendon.

More coverage: Chesapeake Energy, CEO part ways

Here's a brief timeline of major events that occurred at Chesapeake Energy during Lawler's stint as CEO:

Chesapeake Energy announces Doug Lawler as CEO

After spending his entire career at Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum and its predecessor Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee Corp., Doug Lawler was named CEO for Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City in 2013.

Lawler entered the oil and gas industry in 1988. He become only the second CEO in Chesapeake's history. He succeeded co-founder Aubrey McClendon, who shaped Chesapeake's unique corporate culture.

Lawler, team trim company's assets, operational footprint

As Lawler and his team settled into their jobs, they quickly turned their attention toward ridding Chesapeake Energy of its real estate and other non-core operations to refocus its mission on producing natural gas and oil.

In 2014, the company marketed and found a buyer for Classen Curve, a McClendon-inspired commercial development that started getting built in 2008, and Nichols Hills Plaza, an established shopping center Chesapeake Energy acquired in 2005.

That same year, it inked deals to sell midstream assets to two buyers for a half-billion dollars and announced it would spin off its oilfield drilling and services unit as well. 

It closed out 2014 by swapping out one $4 billion credit facility set to mature the following year with another one that extended out that period to 2019, with much more attractive terms.

Chesapeake Energy scales back to reduce debt, forced to lay off hundreds

A yearlong oil price slump claimed hundreds more victims in September 2015 when Chesapeake Energy Corp. laid off 740 employees, including 562 in Oklahoma City.

The job cuts translated into about 15% of the company's overall workforce and about 19% of the workers at its Oklahoma City headquarters.

"The workforce reduction is very painful to me personally and to the leadership team of the entire company, but we have to take the necessary steps to remain a competitive, profitable company," Lawler told The Oklahoman. "We will take the necessary actions to protect our company, to protect our shareholders and all stakeholders, including the businesses in the community."

Oily expansion bodes well for company's long-term future

The company didn't aggressively try to grow its operations until early 2019, when it closed on a $4 billion deal to acquire Houston-based WildHorse Resource Development Corp., a company that held 420,000 oil-thick acres in the Eagle Ford Shale field in Texas. 

Lawler said that deal nearly tripled Chesapeake’s undeveloped, proved oil reserves and put it in a position to nearly double its oil production to represent 30% of its total output.

Any other time, that would have been a recipe to boost the company's value. But external forces were eating away at the company’s ability to reacquire long-term financial success. 

Oversupplied global markets for oil and natural gas were keeping commodity prices low while covenants on Chesapeake's debt agreements began putting extreme pressures on the company as it and other producers navigated a soft market.

Filing questioned company's future solvency

In late 2019, Chesapeake filed a “going concern” statement with financial regulators.

The company did a reverse stock split in early 2020 as an attempt to boost its share prices, but options it could pursue to continue were rapidly evaporating.

Chesapeake Energy files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

The Oklahoma City energy pioneer made official in June 2020 what had been expected for some time, filing for bankruptcy protection in Texas. The company said it negotiated a restructuring agreement with most of its creditors that company officials assert will create a path back to profitability.

In a release the company issued at the time, CEO Doug Lawler stated the company took itself to court to complete a process he and his team have worked toward the past six years.

“We are fundamentally resetting Chesapeake’s capital structure and business to address our legacy financial weaknesses and capitalize on our substantial operational strengths,” Lawler stated.

Chesapeake Energy bankruptcy approved

Chesapeake Energy's bankruptcy plan was approved in January 2021. 

Lawler told employees in an email that a judge’s approval of its exit plan marked “a critical milestone” in its future.

The ruling, he said, put the company on a path “towards fundamentally resetting our company and preparing us to emerge a stronger and more competitive enterprise.”

The ruling by Judge David R. Jones set the stage for the company to rejoin a business world where it could freely operate once again.

Chesapeake Energy layoffs results in hundreds of job cuts

Chesapeake Energy shed about 15% of its staff in early February 2021 as it neared the finish line in its bankruptcy process.

The decision to layoff 220 workers, mostly from its Oklahoma City headquarters, was tied to ongoing economic factors created by COVID-19 that are impacting demands for oil and natural gas, company officials said.

Also, Chesapeake Energy announced it was able to successfully raise $1 billion of unsecured debt.

Chesapeake Energy clears bankruptcy

After years of trying to tame its crushing debt, after laying off thousands of employees and after wiping out the investments of its common shareholders, Chesapeake Energy on Tuesday emerged from bankruptcy Feb. 9, 2021.

At the time, Lawler said Chesapeake was prepared to show the value of a portfolio of operational areas its team had painstakingly worked to preserve and improve for the better part of the past eight years.

The company emerged much smaller than the one that once was the nation's second-largest producer of natural gas, a free-spending firm that secured assets in nearly every major energy-production basin in America. Parts of its spacious, verdant campus in northwest Oklahoma City by then were vacant and up for redevelopment ideas.

Chesapeake Energy Arena renaming announced

Chesapeake Energy Arena would be renamed after Chesapeake Energy Corp. terminated its naming rights, the team announced April 20, 2021. 

Chesapeake, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, had a 12-year agreement worth $34 million for the naming rights beginning in 2011.

The building, which is owned by Oklahoma City and was opened in 2002, will continue to be called Chesapeake Energy Arena in the interim. 

 

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great fairly succinct history of a company with a ... colorful history.  I have mentioned this before, but 9 years ago, CHK suspended mine and my family's royalties due to past overpayment.  Being an attorney, I tried to engage a CHK attorney to figure out what the issue was.  She was rude and abrupt, and would not engage in any kind of process that could lead to resolution.  While she never said the words, basically she said "if you don't like it, sue me."  So we all languished for six years with no royalties while 2 HA wells were producing on family property.  Three years ago, I made a new effort.  This time, I ended up with a different attorney, and a division order analyist, and working together, we figured out where the mistakes had  been made (mostly CHK employees in 2009/10), but also saw that for different reasons, we had been overpaid.

I was so impressed with the young attorney I was working with, that I offered to find her a new job as an in-house counsel if she got laid off.  She declined that offer because it would have required her to relocate out of OK.  Subsequently, she did get laid off, along with the very competent DO analyist, but the good news is that they both landed on their feet in OK City with new employers.

I know many, in fact most on this blog love to diss Aubrey, and he was an easy target.  But for unleased land or mineral owners, he was the best friend they could have ever hoped to find.  His driving ambition resulted in many getting lease bonuses that were outlandish, and made many, many average income NW Louisiana land owners fairly wealthy just based on the lease bonuses, much less the royalties that they got in the future.  It was an insane leasing market for a year or so, and people complained bitterly that they didn't get $15 or 18,000 per acre for their lease, and ONLY got $10 or 12,000 per acre.  Insane.

Always good to hear about competent and attentive customer service at any operating company but especially with CHK considering what many went through.  I can assure all that as many mineral lessors did well with bonus payments, quite a few did not.  Breaks of the game.  I can assure all that after the land rush was done, CHK devised many ways to recoup some of their investment at the expense of their mineral lessors and unleased mineral owners.  Many are aware of the marketing scam, eh I mean charge, but there were many other corners cut and plenty of pencil whipping that went on.  Unfortunately CHK got away with so much for so long that other companies followed their lead.  A reckoning is coming for some.

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