Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Emails Could Incriminate Oklahoma-Based Chesapeake in Antitrust Case, Experts Say

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Emails Could Incriminate Oklahoma-Based Chesapeake in Antitrust Case, Experts Say

Article excerpt

Leaked emails could be incriminating for Chesapeake Energy in the company's criminal antitrust charges, said Harry First, a law professor at New York University. The former attorney with the Department of Justice said he is familiar with the issue.

"You never know all the facts until you see them in court, but it looks pretty damning," he said.

Chesapeake Energy is facing criminal antitrust charges in Michigan's 89th District Court, stemming in part from a 2012 Reuters investigation.

The news service published portions of leaked emails between Chesapeake executives and high-ranking Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc. employees that suggested the two companies collaborated to hold down lease prices in 2010. Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday that he had filed the charges in Cheboygan County District Court in Cheboygan. Chesapeake faces two misdemeanor charges and up to $1 million in fines if found guilty.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources holds two state auctions per year for oil and gas leases on public land. In May 2010, prices for leases averaged about $1,510 per acre, according to the complaint. In October, prices for land leases had fallen to about $40 per acre. Schuette alleged that the email exchanges are evidence of conspiracy to restrain commerce.

"The (Reuters) investigation uncovered a series of emails between Chesapeake and Encana executives discussing the agreement, dividing up Michigan counties where each would be an exclusive bidder for leases, and actually providing a draft agreement," according to Schuette's complaint.

First said that Schuette must prove the companies made an agreement to succeed on the first charge. However, the second charge, attempt to conspire, would suggest he only has to prove they tried to make an agreement. The conspiracy is the harm, he said.

Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer wrote in an email that the company is disappointed Schuette has filed charges. The company conducted a third-party investigation, which concluded in 2012 that Chesapeake's activities in Michigan did not violate antitrust laws, Pennoyer wrote. …

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