Aubrey McClendon's New Job

Well, that didn't take long. Less than three weeks after retiring as CEO of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK  ) , the company's co-founder, Aubrey McClendon, has a new job. According to The Oklahoman, McClendon is launching a new energy company: American Energy Partners LP. The new company is reportedly headquartered just down the street from his old office.

In an email obtained by the paper, McClendon said he is actively seeking new oil and gas drilling opportunities. The email went on to say that McClendon's "goal is to build a substantial E&P company both through the drillbit and through acquisitions of producing properties." Further, the email stated: "In particular, I will be looking for deals with a lot of drilling left on them and will also consider undeveloped acreage deals – plus, I am not scared of natural gas."

Now that he's out of the spotlight of the public markets, McClendon can build this new company without having his every move scrutinized. His only limitations will be the capital to fund his big dream as well as the non-compete agreements he has with Chesapeake. All we can do is speculate about what McClendon will buy first, especially considering that he's not afraid of natural gas.

He's probably the only one who's not afraid of natural gas these days. Despite the recent rise in price, all we've heard about are companies transitioning from natural gas to oil and natural gas liquids, or NGL, with nearly every energy company highlighting that aspect of its business. Environmental services company Heckmann (NYSE: NES  )  for example is quick to point out that oil- and NGL-focused shale plays make up 70% of its revenue. Meanwhile, Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN  ) is quick to point out that its oil production increased 20% last year and its natural gas production is down to just 61% of total production. Each company has done so to alleviate investors' fears that its business is too reliant on natural gas to grow. 

Even Chesapeake, which McClendon had built into the nation's second-largest natural gas producer, has been trumpeting that it is now the 11th largest oil and liquids producer in the country. The company had basically quit drilling gas wells this year, as 86% of its drilling capital is devoted to liquids-rich projects.

However, now that McClendon is out of the market's spotlight, he can pursue natural gas when no one else is doing so. That's the beauty of the private market place. The question is: Should we join him in that pursuit?

While we can't yet invest in his new company as public investors, we do have two options if we, like McClendon, are not afraid of natural gas. We can either seek out those companies that are reliant on natural gas or invest in those that have a large upside if gas prices increase.

One company that has showed it's not afraid of natural gas is Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL  ) . The company is one of the lowest-cost producer,s meaning it's profitable even in this low-price environment. Further, the company is focused on driving natural-gas-fueled returns by investing within its cash flow instead of pushing growth for the sake of growth. With massive natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale and the Green River Basin of Wyoming, Ultra's future is firmly levered to natural gas.

On the other hand, a company to keep an eye on is another one with a CEO who is also a former Chesapeake Energy co-founder. SandRidge Energy (NYSE: SD  )  is actually a step ahead of Chesapeake; the company has already made the transition to liquids as 80% of its Mississippian cash flow is from oil and liquids. However, the natural gas upside is tremendous when you consider that 55% of its Mississippian production is natural gas. While the company talks oil growth, it will really benefit from a rise in natural gas prices. 

While McClendon might be starting over, I think it's interesting that he's going back to the same well, so to speak. Natural gas is something that most investors are afraid of these days, and most companies are trumpeting liquids. However, it might be a good idea to follow McClendon's lead and either invest in a pure-play natural gas driller like Ultra Petroleum or find those companies like Heckmann, SandRidge, and Devon that are trumpeting liquids but have hidden natural gas upside.

Now that Chesapeake remains a compelling story in the natural gas industry, energy investors would be hard-pressed to find another company trading at a deeper discount. Its share price depreciated after negative news surfaced concerning the company's management and spiraling debt picture. While the debt issues still persist, giant steps have been taken to help mitigate the problems. To learn more about Chesapeake and its enormous potential, you're invited to check out The Motley Fool's brand-new premium report on the company. Simply click here now to access your copy.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On April 22, 2013, at 2:04 PM, GETRICHSLOW2 wrote:

    The guy's a crook. I wouldn't loan him a dime!

  • Report this Comment On April 23, 2013, at 6:11 PM, Khizhim wrote:

    Let's not put our friends at TMF on the line for libel and slander. Let's not try to categorize the guy, particularly in ways which might be "legally actionable." How about a simply discussion of a more or less objective characteristic: credibility? And while we're at it, how about Gary Evans, over at Magnum Hunter Resources, which took a spill recently when it fired its independent auditor, a little-know, hole-in-the-wall outfit called Price Waterhouse.

    I'm not trying to "hijack" this thread. This discussion is focused on McClendon, but is it relevant to talk about "wildcat" type O&G guys? Do they all have common characteristics? McClendon seemed to do a superb job of building CHK. Gary Evans must be credited for his achievements at MHR, which seems to be a superb independent operating company.

    Are all of these guys simply "the real deal," straight out of "central casting," and all "larger than life"? Is that type of personality necessary?

  • Report this Comment On April 24, 2013, at 7:13 PM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @khizhim - You bring up an interesting point about O&G CEOs. Many really do fit the "wildcatter" ideal of highly paid and possibly risky operational behavior (throw in the CEO of SandRidge). However, high risk for high reward isn't limited to the space. This is the country with so called "banksters."

    All that being said, as investors we can walk with our feet by selling our shares. Companies like CHK, MHR and SD carry more risk and just because the returns aren't there doesn't mean its the CEO is inept. By investing here you're choosing not to invest in the exxons or chevrons of the world, instead you're dialing up the risk and putting your money into the hands these men that could bring great reward. Unfortunately gas plunged and the hole that was dug with leverage has buried many alive.

    Matt

  • Report this Comment On April 24, 2013, at 8:49 PM, NOTvuffett wrote:

    A high school cheerleading squad could have made better decisions than Aubrey McClendon. Even while he was doing it, investors were saying 'this doesn't make sense'. Now, the best option was to pay this guy off with a few tens of millions just to go away.

    I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for this puke.

  • Report this Comment On April 25, 2013, at 10:57 AM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @NOTvuffett - You might want to take a look at a long term chart of CHK's stock: http://www.google.com/finance?q=NYSE:CHK

    Over the past 20 years CHK is up 1,300% while the S&P 500 is up just 260%. Not that I agree with everything McClendon did, but that's really good outperformance.

    Matt

  • Report this Comment On April 30, 2013, at 7:22 PM, Khizhim wrote:

    @TMFmd19:

    Thanks for your response. I appreciate your comments and your willingness to reply. Many of your MF colleagues seem to use a "hit and run" approach to their online commentaries. They may never even view reader responses. I can understand this, to a point. We readers in the "peanut galleries" greatly out-number the poor MF commentators, so it's not realistic to expect you guys to respond to all comments. (As well, we've all been burned by the "psycho-social dynamics" of online forums. We only have to consider the "tone" of the Yahoo Finance forums as an example of that problem. It's "nasty, VERY nasty," so thanks again, you're a good sport.)

  • Report this Comment On May 02, 2013, at 11:09 AM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @Khizhim - The other issue is that we TMFer's need to make a conscious effort to check articles as we're not alerted to them (at least not that I'm aware of). So, its easy for many to fall through the cracks.

    Best and thanks for reading!

    Matt

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