The shale bust has reached a grim milestone by claiming the pioneer of America’s drilling renaissance. But Chesapeake Energy, 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 year alone, at least 20 have gone under after oil prices plunged amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
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.