Aubrey McClendon Dies in Car Crash ?

Aubrey McClendon, one of the pioneers of the U.S. shale boom, died in a fiery single-vehicle crash on Wednesday, a day after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring with an unnamed company to rig the price of oil and gas leases in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City Police said in a news conference Wednesday that Mr. McClendon, the former chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., was found dead after driving into a wall at speeds well in excess of the 40 mile-per-hour limit for the area Wednesday morning. He was 56 years old.

Authorities were trying to determine whether the crash was the source of his death, or whether he had suffered a health issue beforehand. The vehicle was so badly burned that emergency responders weren't immediately able to tell whether Mr. McClendon was wearing a seat belt, police said.

“He collided into a concrete embankment at a high rate of speed, and the vehicle was immediately engulfed in flames,” an Oklahoma City Police Dept. spokesman said.

American Energy Partners LP, the main venture Mr. McClendon had founded to mount a comeback after being forced out of Chesapeake in 2013 by activist investors, confirmed his death.

“It is with deep sadness that AELP confirms that earlier today, its founder, Aubrey K. McClendon, died in a car accident on Midwest Boulevard in Oklahoma City,” the company said. “We will deeply mourn his loss, and please join us in expressing our condolences to his family.”

Chesapeake also expressed shock at his death.

“Chesapeake is deeply saddened by the news that we have heard today, and our thoughts and prayers are with the McClendon family during this difficult time,” the company said in a statement.

The indictment Tuesday alleged that Mr. McClendon orchestrated a campaign to keep bid prices down from 2007 to 2012, while he was chief executive of Chesapeake, amid a land-leasing boom across the U.S.

Mr. McClendon had vigorously contested the charges in a statement Tuesday evening.

“The charge that has been filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented,” he said. “All my life I have worked to create jobs in Oklahoma, grow its economy, and to provide abundant and affordable energy to all Americans. I am proud of my track record in this industry, and I will fight to prove my innocence and to clear my name.”

Within the energy industry, Mr. McClendon was regarded as a visionary who early on grasped the promise of technology that would unlock huge deposits of oil and natural gas from dense rock formations across the U.S. But he also had come to symbolize the sector’s excesses.

While at Chesapeake, Mr. McClendon was long one of the most aggressive buyers of land all over the country amid a bonanza to drill in layers of shale rock. His long-held belief was that whichever company acquired the drilling rights would ultimately secure great wealth from a developing U.S. energy renaissance.

His epic lease-acquisition spree left the Oklahoma City-based driller with rights to more than 16 million acres stretching from Texas to Pennsylvania. It also made the company cash-poor, bloated with debt and vulnerable to a collapse in oil and gas prices.

Once a billionaire, Mr. McClendon was ousted as CEO of Chesapeake in 2013 after a shareholder revolt led by activist investor Carl Icahn. He left the company amid allegations that he improperly mixed his personal dealings with company operations, such as through loans secured by banks and other entities that also had business with Chesapeake. Mr. McClendon denied wrongdoing at the time.