STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's talk now about natural gas, which is big business for a company called Chesapeake Energy. It's based in Oklahoma City and Chesapeake is the second largest natural gas producer in the country. But the company has faced a series of problems this year, including investigations and questions about its finances.
On top of that, NPR's Jeff Brady reports natural gas prices have dropped dramatically.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: After 23 consecutive years of touting its increasing natural gas production, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon said this during a conference call with investors yesterday:
AUBREY MCCLENDON: I hope you noticed that we are now projecting a decline in Chesapeake's gas production of approximately 7 percent in 2013.
BRADY: This is a big change for Chesapeake, which has been at the leading edge of natural gas drilling booms across the country. But prices have dropped to about three dollars a thousand cubic feet. That's two-thirds less than natural gas was selling for three years ago. Such a steep decline has cut into Chesapeake's profits.
KEN MEDLOCK: It's probably a fair thing to say that they're, in some ways, a victim of their own success.
BRADY: Ken Medlock is an energy economist at Rice University. He says last winter, demand was down, thanks to warmer-than-expected weather. At the same time, supply is growing, so over the past year prices tumbled. Gas production is up because of controversial technologies like hydraulic fracturing.
Fracking - as its better known - has made it possible to extract gas from deep underground. But there's concern about fracking's effect on the environment. There are now some big names signed on as fracking opponents.
Last month on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," Yoko Ono held a big Mother Earth globe while her son Sean Lennon sang.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")
SEAN LENNON: (Singing) So, please don't frack my mother.
YOKO ONO: (Singing) Don't frack me. Don't frack me.
LENNON: (Singing) Don't frack my...
BRADY: Creative activism is just one of the challenges Chesapeake Energy faces. The others are much less musical.
In May, a shareholder backlash prompted Chesapeake's board of directors to strip Aubrey McClendon of his chairmanship, though he remains CEO. In June the company said the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating a compensation program for McClendon. And more recently, there were questions about whether Chesapeake colluded with another company to suppress land lease rates in Michigan.
After years of fast growth, Chesapeake is making changes, says Ken Medlock at Rice University.
MEDLOCK: By being so aggressive and really pushing an aggressive acquisition and drilling program they've had to sort of reach outside themselves a little bit and seek some capital infusion.
BRADY: The company is selling assets, including a pipeline division for nearly 600 million dollars. And Chesapeake says it will drill more for oil and other petroleum products that can bring in extra cash. But Chesapeake Energy likely will always be primarily a natural gas company.
CEO Aubrey McClendon predicts better days ahead.
MCCLENDON: This has been a four-year down cycle and a lot of headwinds the last four years, but we think a multi-year up-cycle is now underway.
BRADY: Already prices have started rising in recent weeks. McClendon says his company is set up to profit if that trend continues.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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