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Aubrey McClendon's New Job

By Matthew DiLallo - Apr 22, 2013 at 2:00PM

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The former Chesapeake CEO is starting his own energy company and is going back to the natural gas well.

Well, that didn't take long. Less than three weeks after retiring as CEO of Chesapeake Energy (CHKA.Q), 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 (NESC) for example is quick to point out that oil- and NGL-focused shale plays make up 70% of its revenue. Meanwhile, Devon Energy (DVN 6.33%) 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 (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.

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