As we all know, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and its Chief Executive Officer Aubrey McClendon have received an overwhelming amount of media and shareholder attention recently as the company has reported losses.
McClendon has stepped down as chairman of Chesapeake’s board of directors, though he remains CEO, and agreed to end a program that allowed him to buy a stake in each of the company’s wells. The company’s largest shareholder group has urged the Chesapeake board “to be open to any offers to acquire the whole company” and a U.S. Senator has called for a Department of Justice investigation into some of the company’s dealings.
Even Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid has called for more “disclosure” from the company, following a report from Reuters about loans made to McClendon so the CEO could participate in the well program. In the Reuters report, some analysts said the loans might represent a conflict of interest. Reuters has also reported that some analysts believe a hedge fund formerly operated by McClendon might also represent a conflict.
Given the circumstances surrounding the company and its importance to the local economy, it’s prudent at the very least to seek more openness from McClendon and the Chesapeake Board of Directors if only to determine the short-term future of the local economy. A major disruption at the company-for example, downsizing, layoffs, a sale-could negatively impact the economy and set the Oklahoma City metropolitan area back for years. It’s only reasonable to call for more openness from the company.
So how does The Oklahoman respond to McClendon’s and Chesapeake’s media woes? A call for openness? A spirited defense of McClendon and his management style? No, it plays the Obama card, according to an editorial published on NewsOK.com yesterday.
In an unsigned editorial titled “Chesapeake boss unsparing in criticism of administration,” the newspaper references a recent Wall Street Journal article in which McClendon criticizes President Barack Obama and stands up for the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which some claim can contaminate drinking water.
Of course, Obama hasn’t really come out against fracking. His administration has only pushed to have companies show what types of chemicals they use in the drilling process.
McClendon’s claims make no sense in this personal regard, too: There’s a glut of natural gas on the market primarily because of a mild winter probably caused by global warming. Natural gas prices have been plunging recently. Why keep fracking right now, anyway?
Here’s one sample of McClendon’s comments in the Wall Street Journal article:
I get mad at the New York-based environmentalists because if you were truly environmentalists you wouldn’t have a storm surge system and a sanitary system hooked together here that requires you to close your beaches 10 times a year. You’d hire an army of people to pick up plastic bottles off the street and newspapers off the street and it wouldn’t all go into the rivers. But you know, these are people who have a great deal of influence with the president and I think he had lost some of their confidence and he needed to do something to deliver a victory for environmentalists.
No doubt this sells well here in one of the reddest states in the country, but the larger point is that an Oklahoman editorial is apparently trying to deflect attention away from McClendon real problems right now, and Obama isn’t one of them. There’s no excuse for this. When it comes to Chesapeake and Oklahoma City, as Councilman Shadid pointed out, “Our fortunes rise and fall together.”
Gratuitous Obama-bashing won’t fix the local economy if the company truly stumbles. The outcome of the presidential election will not determine if the country experiences another mild winter, lowering natural gas prices. Clean drinking water should not be a partisan issue.