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Is Chesapeake Energy about to go bankrupt?

12:00 PM EST on February 15, 2012

There are certain rules you have to follow if you want to work in the Oklahoma City media. One of the most important is to never produce a story that criticizes or questions one of our local energy companies. News stories like that are simply not allowed. Instead, you have to write an article that highlights the wonders of CNG, how awesome fracking is, and all the good things corporations like Chesapeake do for our rowing community.

Fortunately for us, Forbes energy reporter Christopher Helman does not live in Oklahoma. That means the local media rules don't apply to him. He gets to be an actual reporter and report on news we may want to know about, including the real scary stuff like how Chesapeake Energy is running out of cash and flirting with bankruptcy.

From a story on

This morning Chesapeake Energy announced a new financial plan that it hopes will allow it to raise the billions in cash it needs to get through the next year or so without going bankrupt.

The company says it aims to raise $2 billion by spinning off assets from its service company and pipeline division. It expects another $2 billion from upfront sales of future flows from gas fields. And it earmarks another $6 billion or so from the sale of its largely undeveloped acreage in the oil-rich Permian basin. And for good measure, it will raise another $1 billion by issuing more senior debt. The $10-12 billion it hopes to raise is “substantially in excess of the difference between the company’s expected cash flow from operations and its planned capital expenditures.” Gosh I should hope so. Analyst Arun Jayaram at Credit Suisse pegs Chesapeake’s 2012 cash hole at $6 billion.

But with natural gas prices already at decade-long lows and set to go even lower in the months ahead, there’s no telling whether even Aubrey McClendon‘s legendary financial finagling will be able to save the day.

First, it should be noted that Helman doesn't seem to be a big fan of Chesapeake. Most of his columns about the energy behemoth are a bit negative and cynical. But is there anything wrong with that?

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd kind of like to know if one of our city's corporate stewards and largest employers is in a financial bind and flirting with bankruptcy. Even though I enjoy midgets and clowns, I would assume that I'm not the only one who feels that way. I bet our civic leaders, politicians, Chesapeake employees, royalty holders, landmen and just about everyone else who lives in this state would feel like to know, too.

Maybe this Forbe's article will inspire a change in our local media's rule on allowing only propaganda-style coverage of our local energy companies? Maybe the Oklahoman will investigate this story further, talk to sources within the company, and let us know how close Chesapeake really is to disaster. Maybe Channel 9 will do an I-Team report and let us know how a Chesepeake collapse would impact the economy. And maybe, just maybe, someone will find fresh milk inside the Milk Bottle building on Classen. I'm sure all that will happen.

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