EQT continuing to hone business down to gas drilling

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EQT Corp. has yet to receive regulatory approval for the proposed selling of its Equitable Gas utility, but the Downtown-based energy firm is already making moves to further narrow its focus toward drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The company plans to sell coalbed methane acreage and operations in Virginia worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" and use the money for drilling more wells and filling acreage gaps in its Pennsylvania and West Virginia gas fields, EQT chairman and CEO David Porges said following a shareholder meeting Wednesday.

Mr. Porges wouldn't comment on potential buyers, but said interest had been tempered by low natural gas prices that only recently started to see an uptick.

Over the past year, EQT has taken dramatic steps to raise the money needed to drill deep wells into the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves. An initial public offering of its EQT Midstream division raised $262 million last June. The selling of the company's Equitable Gas utility to North Shore-based Peoples Natural Gas could net $720 million, but approval from the state Public Utilities Commission and various other agencies are expected to take until the end of the year, Mr. Porges said.

The Peoples-Equitable deal, which does not require a vote before shareholders, has been approved by the board of directors.

Meanwhile, EQT has no plans to join in pipeline projects that will start shipping Marcellus ethane to petrochemical facilities and export markets in the Gulf Coast, said Mr. Porges. He'd rather wait to see if Royal Dutch Shell or any of the other firms proposing plants here follow through on the plans to build sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"We kind of hate to see the region commit all of its ethane," he said, since that might deter the firms from committing to local petrochemical sites.

Shareholders Wednesday voted with the board on all five proposals, including the election of four directors and the executive compensation package, which paid Mr. Porges $8.7 million in cash and stock last year.

Only one item on the agenda failed: A shareholder proposal to conduct a feasibility study on political contributions made by the company.

EQT recommended that shareholders vote against the item, saying there was an internal committee that reviewed such matters and that the firm's spending habits were unaffected by the a Supreme Court decision in 2010 that unleashed limits on corporate spending.

The 20-minute shareholder meeting was markedly calmer than last year's, which was temporarily adjourned for two hours after anti-drilling advocates overran the meeting and then refused to leave the building lobby.

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Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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