Liquefied natural gas player NextDecade said on Friday that its founder and former chief executive Kathleen Eisbrenner has passed away at the age of 58.
Eisbrenner was an entrepreneur and company founder multiple times over, with high-level leadership roles in companies including Excelerate Energy, Shell and El Paso on her resume. She also played a key role in pioneering development of floating regasification and storage unit technology.
"It is with great sorrow that we announce the untimely passing of our friend and colleague,” said Matthew Schatzman, current chief executive of NextDecade.
“Kathleen was a true energy industry pioneer. We at NextDecade are grateful for her foresight and leadership, without which we would not be where we are today.”
“We extend our deepest sympathies to Kathleen’s devoted husband, Ray, and the Eisbrenner family,” Schatzman continued. “All of us at NextDecade are fortunate to have known and worked with Kathleen over the years, and remain firmly committed to the realization of her vision.”
Eisbrenner founded NextDecade in 2010, which was publicly listed on the Nasdaq in 2017, and served as chief executive until February 2018. She remained the company's chairman of the board until her death. The company is currently developing the Rio Grande LNG facility in Brownsville, Texas.
Among Eisbrenner's many achievements, she served as an executive vice president at Shell, where she managed the company's global LNG portfolio and trading business.
Previously she founded and was chief executive of Excelerate Energy, which developed the floating storage regasification unit vessel, and also served in various senior management positions at El Paso Energy.
Upstream profiled Eisbrenner in 2015, tracing her rise through first the natural gas business and then later breaking new ground in the LNG industry.
Eisbrenner’s passion for mathematics and science led her to a civil engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame in her home state of Indiana and her first job as a pipeline engineer for a utility company.
However, she soon found the maths and science of structuring deals were more interesting, so she switched to the marketing department in a matter of months.
Early in her career, in gas marketing at a Midwestern utility company, she saved industrial customers tens of millions of dollars by offering them variable rates in the days following deregulation.
Later, while at El Paso Pipeline Partners, she helped pioneer floating regasification and storage unit technology.
“We designed this clever technology for putting heat exchangers on top of LNG carriers to turn them into regas terminals instead of ships,” she told Upstream at the time.
The technology suffered a setback when Enron went bust in 2001. The bankruptcy hit most of Houston’s energy sector, including El Paso, which decided not to continue its LNG business, Eisbrenner says.
“We sold all of those pieces of the business, very profitably, except for one,” she said. “No one wanted the design for these ships.”
The day after she left El Paso, billionaire George Kaiser called her and asked if she would be interested in starting her own company.
With Kaiser’s backing of $3 billion over time, and the floating LNG technology she had developed at El Paso, Eisbrenner founded Excelerate Energy in 2003. Under her guidance, the company built eight FRSUs and marketed them around the world.
It was big enough to catch the attention of Shell, which hired her as its executive vice president of global LNG in 2007.
After leaving to found NextDecade in 2010, she also headed investment company and FLNG developer Pangea LNG and its marketing unit Levant LNG for about a year.
As a female chief executive, Eisbrenner was a rarity for the energy industry and, as such, it became one of her passions to mentor young women, she told Upstream in 2015.