A Chesapeake Without McClendon

 | Jan 29, 2013 | 6:15 PM EST
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Aubrey McClendon's out!

But isn't that like saying Chesapeake's (CHK) out?     

Aren't they synonymous?

I have to think that here's a company that's been built lock, stock and barrel by McClendon, and, like it or not, it's modeled in his image -- not anyone else's.

While Aubrey can't certainly be considered a gunslinger, can it really be as cut and dried as easy come, easy go?

Were his transgressions just enough to get him thrown out? Or was he tired of the lack of freedom from a real board that watched his every move?

I am sure we will find out soon enough.

Look, McClendon's cut from a different cloth. He always operated Chesapeake as a private company with public shareholders, taking huge gambles and giving himself J.R. Ewing perks.

He never played by everyone else's rules, although I think that if you bought the stock you pretty much figured that out.

Aubrey's tenure at Chesapeake will stand out for two reasons. One is the huge wager he placed on natural gas as a fuel for the future and two is the failure of that huge wager to pay off in his time with Chesapeake. In a way he was just too successful, singlehandedly discovering big prospects and exploiting them only to have their abundance and the abundance of other shales overwhelm the system, driving prices down to where his whole company became uneconomic.

Now McClendon has spent the last year trying to undo what he built without losing too much production and he had largely succeeded in his plan, which is why we need to know more about this departure.

But I will always consider McClendon as the great proselytizer for an industry that truly does need proselytizing.

On a personal note, I always liked Aubrey from the day I meet him several decades ago. I know that, judging by the publicity around some of his maneuvers, that probably doesn't sit well with many of you. But he told me early on, when no one ever thought it was possible, that we had enough natural gas in this country to transform the nation into an independent energy producer. As it is, we have enough oil and gas in the continent that we can already see independence in our sites.

I will always wonder if, somehow, the nation had embraced natural gas as a surface fuel Chesapeake would be riding high and McClendon riding higher still.

Instead, Chesapeake will have to go without him.

The cynic in me says that McClendon's leaving will mark the low in the price of natural gas.

But the optimist in me hopes that his vision of a natural-gas-fueled car-and-truck nation will eventually be realized even as it will not be a McClendon's Chesapeake that reaps the benefits.

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