By the time Chesapeake Energy opened its Fort Worth field office in 2007, the Oklahoma City-based natural gas giant had already drilled more than 300 wells in the North Texas Barnett Shale field.
It had leased more than 200,000 acres for drilling, and the company’s chairman, the late, legendary Aubrey McClendon, vowed, “We plan to drill it all.”
Indeed, at that time Chesapeake’s urban leasing and drilling inside the boundaries of Fort Worth was just getting started, and it would continue going strong well after natural gas prices peaked in 2008.
Chesapeake was a sophisticated player, staffed by people who knew the city well and knew what they were doing.
Knew, for instance, what it meant to do business with a public entity like the Fort Worth school district.
Knew that, unlike doing business with private parties, who could keep transaction details confidential, their business with Fort Worth ISD would be open to the public eye — because it’s the public’s business.
Now, years afterward, Chesapeake wants to claim privacy.
That’s not right. Even in its mad dash to tie up leases in those early days of Barnett Shale drilling, no one forced Chesapeake into leases with public entities.
Chesapeake should not get to change the rules now.
Fort Worth ISD, like thousands of other lessors in the Barnett Shale, has sued Chesapeake alleging that the company shorted them on royalty payments. Some of the school district’s leases go back to 2006.
Chesapeake and FWISD have settled the suit on terms that would see an undisclosed amount of money paid to the school district.
The Star-Telegram has requested access to the settlement agreement under the state’s Public Information Act, but Chesapeake is fighting that request at the Texas attorney general’s office.
Chesapeake’s appeal is based on a claim that disclosing the terms of the FWISD settlement would give an advantage to plaintiffs in other suits against the company.
The Public Information Act was not written to offer protection for companies facing lawsuits.
On the contrary, the act says it was written because people are entitled to “complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.”
It adds, “The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
Instruments like the Fort Worth ISD.
The school district has not objected to releasing the settlement terms. The attorney general’s office should not stand in the way.