HOUSTON — Shares of Chesapeake Energy, a pioneer in extracting natural gas from shale rock that came to be known for its excesses, including a scheme to suppress the price of oil and gas leases, went on a wild ride on Tuesday amid reports that it was preparing a bankruptcy filing.
Trading was halted for more than three hours in the morning. After buying and selling resumed, the trading was quickly interrupted again by circuit breakers. The company’s shares closed just below $24 for a loss of about 66 percent for the day.
Chesapeake’s successes at using hydraulic fracturing to produce gas helped convert the United States from a natural gas importer into a major global exporter. But the company overextended itself by amassing a large debt and has been struggling to survive over the last decade. It is the latest of more than a dozen heavily indebted oil and gas businesses to seek bankruptcy protection since the coronavirus pandemic took hold and Saudi Arabia and Russia flooded the global market with oil this spring.
The company hired advisers to explore bankruptcy in recent months after reporting a loss of $8.3 billion in the first quarter, and said it had just $82 million in cash at the end of March. Chesapeake was forced to write down the value of oil and gas assets by roughly $8.5 billion this year. With $9.5 billion in debts at the end of last year, it has bond payments of $192 millions that are due in August.
Under its swashbuckling former chief executive Aubrey McClendon, the company drilled across Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Wyoming and Louisiana, borrowing billions of dollars along the way. Mr. McClendon was audacious as he aggressively outbid competitors on land leases and explored widely in the early 2000s, although he also drilled many wells that disappointed investors. By 2011, he and others who followed in his footsteps produced a glut of natural gas that sent Chesapeake and other companies to the brink of collapse.
To find a use for all that natural gas, Mr. McClendon went on a campaign to promote compressed natural gas vehicles, but the effort went nowhere.
Before his ouster in 2013, Mr. McClendon built a luxurious campus for the company in Oklahoma City, and acquired trophy assets like the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, interests in a French winery and a $12 million antique map collection. The basketball team still plays in Chesapeake Energy Arena, which was a symbol of Oklahoma City’s arrival as a gas hub.
But Mr. McClendon was also known to cut corners, which got him and his company in trouble. He was charged in 2016 with conspiring to suppress prices for oil and natural gas leases. The indictment said he had orchestrated a conspiracy in which two oil and gas companies colluded not to bid against each other for several leases in northwestern Oklahoma from late 2007 to early 2012.
A day after he was indicted, Mr. McClendon, 56, died in a crash in Oklahoma City after his car hit a bridge at high speed.
The company’s current chief executive, Robert D. Lawler, tried to revive Chesapeake by producing more oil and selling gas…