HOUSTON — Aubrey McClendon, the natural gas wildcatter who was fired last year after assembling a shale portfolio that rivaled Exxon Mobil’s, is following an old script to build a new empire.
McClendon’s American Energy Partners has agreed to buy shale-drilling rights from West Virginia to Texas in three transactions for a total of $4.25 billion, the closely held Oklahoma City-based company said in dual statements Monday.
The combined purchase is the biggest so far in the 14 months since American Energy CEO McClendon, 54, was dismissed from Chesapeake Energy Corp. amid a shareholder revolt. His quarter-century tenure at Chesapeake included some of the most significant U.S. shale discoveries and helped vault the United States into the ranks of the world’s top gas and oil producers.
“The guy is very charismatic,” said Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. in New York who in a 2012 interview described McClendon as “the image” of Chesapeake. “He puts his money where his mouth is, and other people’s money as well.”
Since forming American Energy last year with financial backing from First Reserve Corp. and the son of retired Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, McClendon has followed the playbook he rode to success at Chesapeake, which he co-founded in 1989.
With corporate offices a few blocks from Chesapeake’s sprawling Oklahoma City campus, American Energy has raised about $10 billion for acquisitions and hired ex-lieutenants from Chesapeake and high-ranking executives from other shale explorers such as Devon Energy Corp.
Steven Lipin, an American Energy spokesman who works for Brunswick Group, didn’t immediately respond to a request for an interview with McClendon.
McClendon has a long way to go before his new company approaches Chesapeake’s scale. American Energy has amassed or announced deals to acquire drilling rights on about 400,000 acres, equivalent to 3 percent of Chesapeake’s 12.79 million acres.
Before Monday, American Energy concentrated on the Utica Shale, a Ohio rock formation that Chesapeake was among the first to explore starting four years ago. McClendon, who in 2011 predicted the Utica would rival the prolific Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas, Monday added 27,000 acres to his holdings in the formation through deals with East Resources Inc. and an unidentified company.
American Energy also bought 48,000 acres of drilling rights in West Virginia from East and another firm. The Ohio and West Virginia transactions were valued at a combined $1.75 billion.
In the Permian, McClendon is targeting a formation that has been producing oil since the 1920s and is in the midst of a new drilling boom.
The western half of the formation, known as the Midland Basin, may hold as much as 75 billion barrels of untapped crude, according to Pioneer Natural Resources Inc., a resource larger than the national reserves of all but six of the world’s oil- producing countries.
A subsidiary of McClendon’s company, known as American Energy - Permian Basin, is acquiring about 63,000 acres in the formation from Enduring Resources for $2.5 billion, the company said. Denver-based Enduring is backed by EnCap Investments.