Chesapeake Energy's history ahead of merger reflects volatility of the oil and gas industry

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The quality of Oklahoma City's economic health has been evaluated using energy companies headquartered here as a barometer for decades.

There's no doubt the economic fortunes of Chesapeake Energy, co-founded more than 40 years ago by Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward, have served as a bellwether for other businesses across the community while the domestic and international natural gas markets have changed over time.

At least one Oklahoma analyst believes Thursday's announcement of Chesapeake's plan to acquire Southwestern Energy, another large natural gas producer in North America, bodes well for the industry's future both internationally and here at home.

But domestic and global energy markets can be fickle, as newsworthy events involving Chesapeake over time have shown.

Here's a recap of news items about Chesapeake that have caught the attention of Oklahoma City area residents over the years.

Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City through the years

  • 1989: Chesapeake Energy Corp. is founded by Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward with about 10 employees, with offices established in a single, 6,000-square-foot office building bought for $240,000 in the Three Chopt Square office park on the southeast corner of NW 63 and Western.

  • 1993: The company launches an IPO to become publicly traded after buying up the entire office park to use as its headquarters.

  • 1996: Chesapeake employs 344 before a collapse in natural gas prices sends its stock value plummeting. Despite that, it begins buying adjacent land with plans to expand its corporate headquarters the following year.

More: Chesapeake merger with Southwestern, with HQ in OKC, will 'redefine' natural gas sector

  • 2000Chesapeake begins building new, Georgian style brick buildings for its expanded campus and begins buying nearby office and warehouse properties, anticipating future growth. The company employs 677.

  • 2003-2007: Chesapeake spends billions to acquire assets in nearly every U.S. major energy field, making it the second-largest domestic producer of natural gas, trailing only Exxon. In 2005, Chesapeake employs 1,718 employees and buys retail properties including Glenbrook Centre, 1140 NW 63, for $8.5 million. It also buys Nichols Hills Plaza for $27.5 million and Metro Center, 6418 N Western, for $1.85 million and spends millions more to acquire other nearby properties as it prepares to build Classen Curve and a second shopping center, the Triangle.

  • 2006Ward leaves Chesapeake and buys Riata Energy for $500 million, renaming it SandRidge Energy.

  • 2008: The Great Recession causes energy prices to slump, forcing McClendon to sell nearly all his Chesapeake stock and prompting Chesapeake's board to offer him a financial lifeline in the form of a $75 million bonus.

  • 2010: Chesapeake employs 8,200 and Classen Curve opens.

  • 2012: McClendon loses control of Chesapeake's board because of debt pressures. The board appoints Archie Dunham, Conoco Inc.'s former CEO as chairman and announces a review of McClendon's financial deals.

Aubrey  McClendon
Aubrey McClendon

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: A look at Chesapeake Energy roller coaster history ahead of merger