The shale bust has reached a grim milestone by claiming the pioneer of America’s drilling renaissance. But Chesapeake Energy Corp., which filed for bankruptcy protection on Sunday, is just the latest in a long list of casualties. More than 200 North American oil and gas producers, owing over $130 billion in debt, have filed for bankruptcy since the beginning of 2015, according to a May report from law firm Haynes & Boone. This month alone, seven oil and gas companies have gone under, tying December 2015 for the busiest on record after crude prices plunged amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The shale boom spearheaded by the likes of Chesapeake a decade ago was fueled by debt. Profitability and shareholder returns have been consistently disappointing, and investors had already grown wary of throwing more money into shale before this year’s oil crash. The rate of default on high-yield energy debt stood at 11%, Fitch Ratings said in a June 11 report, the highest level since April 2017. Here are a handful other notable shale bankruptcies so far this year:
An oil explorer focused on the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, Whiting Petroleum Corp. was already facing headwinds prior to 2020. Last year, the Denver-based company announced it would fire a third of its workforce and scale back production targets after posting a surprise quarterly loss.
Crude prices had their worst quarter ever in the first three months of 2020, with oil heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Russia failing to agree on supply cuts just as worldwide lockdowns wiped out demand for fuel. That was enough to push Whiting, saddled with $3.6 billion in debt, into bankruptcy on April 1.