[Editor's note: A version of this story appears in the April 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine.]

The mileage had already worn smooth companies such as Oasis Petroleum Inc., Whiting Petroleum Corp. and Chesapeake Energy Corp. before 2020 and what was to come: an E&P demolition derby. The companies were plagued to varying degrees by huge amounts of debt and, abruptly, vanishing cash flow.

Combined, the companies were saddled with $15.2 billion. But in less than a year, like the sly rolling back of a debt odometer, the three marquee names owed just $1.9 billion.

Their secret? Bankruptcy.

After years of chipping away at their debt, the sudden drop in commodity prices last year pushed the companies off the stock exchanges, miniaturized market values and, finally, forced E&Ps to yield to the courts.

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