Exclusive: Chesapeake, Encana near settlements on Michigan collusion probe

Wed Feb 26, 2014 8:56am EST
 
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By Joshua Schneyer and Anna Driver

NEW YORK/HOUSTON (Reuters) - Encana Corp and Chesapeake Energy Corp are negotiating civil settlements with the state of Michigan to try to end its criminal investigation into whether the energy companies colluded to keep oil and gas lease prices artificially low in the state.

Encana is hopeful that a settlement will be finalized within a few weeks, said Gregory Curtner, a lawyer representing Encana in a separate civil antitrust lawsuit, during a February 14 court hearing.

"I can fill you in on the status of the Michigan Attorney General investigation because I'm handling that," Curtner told Michigan Western District Magistrate Judge Joseph Scoville.

"We are at a stage, as is Chesapeake, of hopefully reaching a civil resolution which will close the criminal investigation," he said, according to a transcript of the hearing. The comments had not been previously reported.

Encana and Chesapeake have been the subject of state and U.S. Department of Justice antitrust probes since 2012, when Reuters published an investigation showing the companies' executives exchanged emails to discuss how they could cooperate to suppress lease prices in the state. (r.reuters.com/deg27v)

Encana and Chesapeake have denied any collusion.

The potential terms of the settlements remain unclear. Encana and Chesapeake declined to comment. Curtner, a Michigan-based partner at law firm Schiff Hardin, did not respond to requests for comment.

Legal experts said the oil and gas companies may be required to pay fines to settle the probe, though the size of any monetary penalties remain unclear.   Continued...

 
An Encana natural gas sign is seen near a production well in a state forest park in Kalkaska, Michigan, June 20, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook