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A floor crew pulls steel pipe out of a natural gas well in the Barnett Shale in Fort Worth, Texas. The 11,600-foot well is owned by Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Photo: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Chesapeake Energy Corp., a shale gas pioneer that helped launch the country's oil-and-gas boom well over a decade ago, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday.

Why it matters: Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake is the highest-profile oil-and-gas company to file for bankruptcy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sapped prices and demand.

  • But it also signals pre-pandemic financial woes that afflicted Chesapeake for years, and to some extent the shale sector overall, which has long struggled with debt and cash flow problems.
  • "This filing has been a long time coming. It was likely going to happen with or without COVID-19," said Alex Beeker, an analyst with the consultancy Wood Mackenzie, in a note Sunday.

Driving the news: Chesapeake said Sunday that it has a restructuring plan with lenders to eliminate roughly $7 billion in debt.

  • Chesapeake, co-founded in 1989 by the late and high-profile fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, said the agreement also includes $925 million in new financing and a commitment for $600 million in new equity upon exiting bankruptcy.
  • "We are fundamentally resetting Chesapeake’s capital structure and business to address our legacy financial weaknesses and capitalize on our substantial operational strengths," CEO Doug Lawler said in a statement.

The big picture: The company was once the country's second-largest gas producer, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • "Lawler had been trying to turn around the company by producing more oil and selling gas assets," the New York Times notes.
  • "But the shale drilling boom of recent years has unleashed more crude oil than the world needs, sending prices lower. The coronavirus pandemic and a decision by Saudi Arabia and Russia this year to ramp up production were the latest blows," per NYT.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Oil lobby launches swing-state ad push in final stretch to Election Day

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The American Petroleum Institute is launching a digital ad barrage in the closing weeks of the election that promotes natural gas and industry access to drilling in areas Joe Biden would place off-limits.

Why it matters: API is the industry's most powerful lobbying group. The seven-figure buy shows how the industry sees the threat from Democratic climate proposals — including a ban on new oil-and-gas leases on federal lands.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Updated Oct 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Oil drops after Trump's COVID bombshell

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Oil prices plunged after President Trump's overnight announcement that he tested positive for COVID-19 and federal data this morning that showed a slowdown in U.S. hiring.

Why it matters: Oil prices were already under downward pressure from the virus' persistence and, per Reuters, the U.S. impasse over stimulus talks.

Updated 22 mins ago - Health

2 federal judges temporarily block Biden vaccine mandates

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant at the White House on Nov. 29. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The Biden administration was temporarily blocked from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates for millions of workers by federal judges in two states on Tuesday.

The big picture: The orders, by federal judges in Kentucky and Louisiana, come one day after a federal judge in Missouri halted the mandate, which has a Jan. 4 deadline, in 10 states.

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