The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encaca Corp. conspired to to drive down lease costs in Michigan, Reuters reported Monday.
The investigation follows Reuters report last week that executives for the two companies — including Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon — repeatedly sent emails to each other in 2010, discussing how to avoid bidding against each other in public land auctions and in negotiations with private land owners in Michigan.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and Chesapeake declined comment.
Besides the federal inquiry, the antitrust division of the Michigan Attorney Generals office and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources also opened investigations following last week’s article, Reuters said Monday, citing “three sources familiar with the matter.”
In the email exchange published by Reuters, McClendon told a Chesapeake vice president that it was time “to smoke a peace pipe” with Encana “if we are bidding each other up.”
The vice president replied, saying he had contacted Encana “to discuss how they want to handle the entities we are both working to avoid us bidding each other up in the interim.”
The Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits companies from discussion price-fixing and other noncompetitive actions. Companies can be fined up to $100 million and individuals up to $1 million for each offense. Victims of such discussions also can seek triple the amount of damages.