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Williams sells Piceance facilities to subsidiary

Williams continues to transfer ownership of natural gas gathering and processing facilities in Western Colorado to a subsidiary partnership that’s become a leading provider of those services.

Williams plans to sell four gas treatment facilities and about 150 miles of pipeline to Williams Partners, a master limited partnership of which Williams owns about 77 percent. The transaction, which is expected to close this month, is valued at $782 million — $702 million in cash and $80 million in units of ownership in the partnership.

Jeff Pounds, a spokesman for the Oklahoma-based Williams, said the so-called drop-down transaction provides more cash for Williams operations while providing more fee-based revenue for Williams Partners. In addition, master limited partnerships enjoy tax advantages in owning energy infrastructure, Pounds said.

No operational changes are planned in the Piceance Basin, where Williams is a leading natural gas producer and Williams Partners has become the largest natural gas gatherer and processor.

Williams operates 12 natural gas drilling rigs in the basin and produces more than 680 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Williams Partners not only has become the largest midstream provider in the Piceance Basin, but also one of the largest in the United States. The partnership owns interest in three major interstate natural gas pipelines that deliver a combined 12 percent of the natural gas consumed in the country.

Williams Partners recently announced federal authorization to place a 30-inch diameter natural gas pipeline known as the Sundance Trail Expansion into service. The project includes 15.5 miles of pipeline that increases transportation capacity from hubs in Rio Blanco County in Western Colorado to Lincoln County, Wyo. The addition is part of the Northwest Pipeline, a 3,900-mile system that transports natural gas from Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming as well as Western Canada to markets in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Pounds said the Piceance transaction constitutes the latest restructuring move for Williams and its subsidiaries. Earlier this year, Williams Pipeline Partners merged with Williams Partners in a $12 billion deal.

The latest deal includes the Parachute Plant processing facility and three other facilities with a combined capacity of 1.2 billion cubic feet a day. The deal also includes a gathering system with about 150 miles of pipeline. More than 3,300 wells are connected to that system.

The deal will provide cash for Williams exploration and production operations and fee-based revenue for Williams Partners, Pounds said. The assets are expected to generate about $105 million in segment profit plus depletion, depreciation and amortization in 2011.

Fee-based revenue is important, Pounds said, because it’s more stable than revenue from natural gas production that varies with commodity prices.

Williams reported a third-quarter loss of $1.26 billion, or $2.16 a share, after nearly $1.7 billion in charges related to a writeoff and natural gas properties primarily in the Barnett shale formation in Texas. The loss compares to net income of $143 million, or 24 cents a share, during the third quarter of 2009.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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