DeSmog

Sued by Chesapeake Energy for Stealing Trade Secrets, Aubrey McClendon Hires PR Giant Edelman

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Chesapeake Energy has sued its former CEO, Aubrey McClendon, for allegedly stealing its trade secrets in the months between his resignation and the formation of his new company, American Energy Partners. To defend itself outside of the courtroom, American Energy Partners has hired Edelmanthe ‘world’s largest’ and often controversial public relations firm.

Filed on February 17 at the District Court of Oklahoma County, Chesapeake’s legal complaint alleges McClendon covertly took map-based data owned by the company in the time between resigning from the company and then officially leaving the company in early 2013. Chesapeake also alleges that he then utilized that same confidential data for business and investment decisions at his new startup in deciding which land to purchase for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas.

AEP used confidential information and trade secrets stolen by McClendon from Chesapeake as a basis for their decision to acquire certain acreage in the Utica Shale Play,” alleges the lawsuit. “Further, in acquiring this acreage…AEP interfered with Chesapeake’s business plans and its negotiations for its own acquisition of acreage in the Utica Shale play.”

Chesapeake Energy alleges that, before taking the data with him, McClendon asked a former company vice president of land, whose name is redacted in the complaint, to optimize and update the data.

Chesapeake Energy v. American Energy Partners Complaint
Image Credit: District Court of Oklahoma County

McClendon also had his executive assistant print out maps for him that were until that point only stored on company computers, according to the legal complaint. Further, the complaint details, he blind carbon-copied (BCC‘d) “dozens of emails” of those same maps to his personal email address for later use. 

Chesapeake Energy v. American Energy Partners
Image Credit: District Court of Oklahoma County

That executive assistant (whose name is redacted) now serves as McClendon’s executive assistant at American Energy Partners, according to the complaint. 

The assistant is one among close to 200 employees who left Chesapeake and joined American Energy Partners, where they work just down the street from Chesapeake’s corporate headquarters

Edelman: McClendon Media Contact

In the news lately for landing a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to do PR over the past several years for American Petroleum Institute (then watching that contract expire), and working with TransCanada on a controversial plan to promote the Energy East tar sands pipeline, Edelman is listed as American Energy’s media contact for the lawsuit.

At the bottom of the lawsuit website created by American Energy, the company lists Edelman’s Ryan Colaianni as its media contact. According to his LinkedIn page, Colaianni works as a senior account supervisor for Edelman.

Chesapeake Energy v. American Energy Partners Website
Image Credit: AELPvCHKlitigation.com

Like the gaggle of employees and “land grab” tactics McClendon has brought with him to American Energy Partners, he also used Edelman for public relations services while he served as the controversy-laden CEO of Chesapeake Energy.

According to an October 2012 press release, Chesapeake and General Electric utilized Edelman for communications efforts surrounding their joint compressed natural gas ”CNG in a Box” initiative. 

Furthermore, on her LinkedIn page Natalie (Wilson) Ilseng — an Edelman senior account executive — lists Chesapeake among her current or past clients.

Edelman also used to do PR work for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), described by its critics as a “corporate bill mill.” Chesapeake Energy in the past has sponsored an ALEC meeting.

McClendon Responds to Allegations

McClendon and his legal team, as well as American Energy Partners’ investors, have already responded to the lawsuit in a very public way. They have all issued statements declaring full innocence, on top of creating a website dedicated to the case. 

“It is beyond belief that the company that I co-founded 25 years ago and where I worked tirelessly to build it into one of America’s largest and most successful oil and gas producers has now decided to add insult to injury almost two years to the day after my resignation by wrongly accusing me of misappropriating information,” McClendon declared in a press release.

“It is a sad day to see Chesapeake stoop so low as to sue its co-founder for having information that was earned, paid for and provided through my contracts with Chesapeake.”

In other words, McClendon and his legal team have shown their cards. It appears they will argue in court that everything he took with him to American Energy Partners fits within the confines of contracts signed and agreed to by both sides.

American Energy Partners has published those contracts online, including the “Summary of Agreed Terms of Post Separation Founder Services Agreement,” the “Founder Separation and Services Agreement” and the “Founder Joint Operating Services Agreement.”

Our filings will show that any information in Mr. McClendon’s possession is rightfully his pursuant to the terms of the agreements entered into between the parties,” Matthew Taylor, an attorney at Duane Morris and McClendon’s lawyer, said in a press release. “We are 100% confident that Mr. McClendon and AELP will prevail in this dispute.”

Judge Patricia G. Parrish will preside over the case that will likely create headlines in the business and legal press for months to come.

If it goes their way, Edelman will help shape some of those headlines on behalf of American Energy Partners.

Edelman’s Colaianni did not respond to questions from DeSmogBlog at the time of publication.

Photo Credit: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Steve Horn is the owner of the consultancy Horn Communications & Research Services, which provides public relations, content writing, and investigative research work products to a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit clients across the world. He is an investigative reporter on the climate beat for over a decade and former Research Fellow for DeSmog.

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