Leon Cooperman’s Man in Shale Patch Goes From Hero to Headache

  • Edward Cohen, ‘persuasive’ driller, anticipated energy boom
  • Cooperman, insider trading suspect, invested in Cohen’s firms

Edward Cohen, patriarch of a successful Philadelphia family, serial entrepreneur and scholar of ancient Greece, has had a long acquaintance with legendary investor Leon Cooperman.

It’s had its ups and downs, to say the least.

Cohen, whose life could be the subject of an epic poem, made a lot of money for Cooperman in 2011 when Chevron Corp. bought Atlas Energy Inc. for $3.2 billion. Cohen was Atlas’s chief executive officer and Cooperman was an investor.

Ed Cohen, second right front, rings the opening bell in New York on Sept. 13, 2016.

Source: NYSE Group via Bloomberg

The low point was Wednesday’s announcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission accusing Cooperman, 73, of trading on insider information related to Atlas Pipeline Partners LP, one of Cohen’s many companies. It’s the government’s highest-profile case against a hedge-fund manager in years.

While the two men were never best buddies, they knew each other “for many years” and were well-enough acquainted by 2002 for Cooperman to start investing in Atlas-related companies, Cooperman said in a letter to clients Wednesday in which he denied the SEC allegations. He would ultimately invest in several of them.

‘Persuasive Guy’

Over the years, Cohen demonstrated an ability to raise money, often with the promise of tax-friendly vehicles such as master-limited partnerships. Between 1985 and 2011, Cohen’s energy businesses sponsored 22 public and 39 private partnerships and raised more than $2 billion from wealthy individuals, according to a 2011 interview with trade publication Oil and Gas Investor.

“Ed’s a pretty persuasive guy,” said Rob Thummel, managing director and portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors LLC in Leawood, Kansas. “The Cohens were the patriarchs of this complicated MLP structure, with multiple entities. They were one of the more complicated stories to follow.”

Cohen, 77, is comfortable with complexity. After obtaining a Ph.D. in ancient history from Princeton University and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s, he and his wife, Betsy, began investing in and creating companies in industries as diverse as energy, finance and real estate. His sons, Daniel and Jonathan, joined the family businesses. His only daughter, Abigail, died of a heart attack in 2000. She was 27.

Ancient Times

Cohen maintained a second career as an expert on ancient times, holding forth as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania and writing multiple books on commerce in ancient Greece.

The most recent is “Athenian Prostitution: The Business of Sex,” which received glowing reviews from academics. It can be purchased for more than $60 on Amazon.com.

“Every new book by Edward E. Cohen is an event,” a University of Chicago professor said. A Harvard Law School professor called it an “important and fascinating study.”

Matt Barkett, a spokesman for the Cohens’ companies at Dix & Eaton Inc., said Cohen wouldn’t comment. Cooperman declined to comment for this story.

Shale Boom

Cohen’s professional life never lacked for drama. He got into the Appalachian energy industry decades ago, serving as chairman of a company called Bryn Mawr Resources Inc. In the late 1980s, he partnered with the heir to the Campbell’s Soup fortune to buy a company called Resource Exploration, according to the interview with Oil and Gas Investor. After installing himself as CEO, Cohen rechristened the company Resource America Inc. The Cohens would soon use that company to diversify into real estate and other industries.

Back then, the shale boom that transformed America had yet to begin -- especially in the Appalachia basin where Cohen and his family operated.

But it arrived big time in West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio by 2009. Almost overnight, Cohen’s holdings skyrocketed in value as the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unlocked reserves of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale patches.

Cohen capitalized, using Atlas Energy to form a $1.7 billion joint venture with India’s Reliance Industries in 2010 and selling Atlas Energy and its gas reserves to Chevron.

Top Executive

That year, Oil and Gas Investor named Cohen its Executive of the Year.

While Cohen hadn’t spearheaded the shale drilling in Marcellus, he’d certainly benefited from the energy revolution.

In 2011, natural gas futures and crude prices were riding high. Since then, both have cratered, hurting many companies and leading to a spate of bankruptcies. A May filing showed Atlas Energy Group LLC, a developer of oil and gas assets, paid Cohen, its CEO, $73.2 million in cash, before its stock fell below $1 over a 30-day period and the New York Stock Exchange suspended it from trading in July.

Before that, when things were still looking bright -- in fact, just two weeks after the Chevron deal closed -- Cohen was on a conference call with investors touting the latest iteration of his Atlas business. Among the investors on the call was a familiar name -- Cooperman. “We’re essentially the same people, same approach,” Cohen said at the beginning of the call.

Toward the end of the confab, Cooperman spoke up.

“Good morning, Ed,” he said. “This is from one of the old timers.”

“We’re glad to have you back, Lee,” Cohen said.

“I never left,” Cooperman said.

“Nor have I,” Cohen said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.