When I first met Aubrey McClendon about a dozen years ago, he told me two things: one, energy was way too cheap and two, our continent would rapidly become energy independent.
Looking back on the day of his passing in what looks to be suicide by vehicle, I can't believe how right he was about both, but how only one played out in his favor.
Aubrey was a true American original, a guy who believed that we had so much natural gas in this country that it could single-handedly power the nation if only the vehicle companies bought into it. They never did in his lifetime.
He believed so strongly in both higher energy prices and bountiful oil and gas that he thought Chesapeake (CHK) could buy every property available with any amount of borrowed money and clean up. He even leveraged up during the Great Recession, margining his stock to double down and he pretty much lost it all and had to start over again.
He was the definition of a swashbuckling risk taker, even as he would tell you right upfront he wasn't an oil man, he was a financial guy placing big bets on oil.
Aubrey championed natural gas as a fuel of the future and he proselytized endlessly about it to anyone, but I think sometimes especially to me. It was so logical, he would say. It is cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and ridiculously abundant.
It's the latter point he really figured out, actually being among the first to discover the Eagle Ford in Texas and being the earliest to figure out that the Utica in Ohio would be bountiful.
Unfortunately for shareholders in Chesapeake, it was bountiful alright, but bountiful with natural gas, not oil, and when I spent some time with him in Ohio he admitted he regretted there wasn't more oil there, because natural gas was too cheap to make a ton of money off of.
That decision, though, got him in hot water with the board and ultimately got him fired. You see, he was right that we could be energy independent, because there is so much natural gas here, but wrong that the price could go up, because supply had overwhelmed demand.
He had taken down too much debt and when prices collapsed, his company didn't have the money and had to sell off properties to meet cash flow. It's still doing it long after Aubrey parted.
Now, I had no idea he was about to be caught up in a big rigging scandal. I did know it was well documented that he had side deals that allowed him to profit at what some believe was the regular shareholders' expense.
All I know is he never lied to me and played with a totally open hand, including when he apologized to the Mad Money audience for going on margin and getting one of the biggest margin calls in history.
I liked that. I liked him. He was a true American original who did a lot of charity, much of it not public, and preached something that nobody believed in until he was right, too right, it turned out, for his company to prosper.
He will be missed.