UPDATE 1-Encana says chief executive to retire immediately

Fri Jan 11, 2013 7:29pm EST
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* Encana CEO to retire immediately

* Board member to take duties while replacement sought

* Decision unexpected

By Scott Haggett

CALGARY, Alberta, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Encana Corp, Canada's No. 1 natural-gas producer, said on Friday Chief Executive Randy Eresman will retire immediately, with board member Clayton Woitas taking over his duties until a permanent replacement is found.

Eresman's decision was unexpected. He said in a release that he believes the company is financially and operationally sound and that Encana's effort to move away from its focus on natural gas and produce more oil was on track.

"Now is the right time for me to step down and to turn over leadership of Encana to someone with the focus, drive and commitment to complete the transition," Eresman, 54, said.

Eresman, who led the Calgary, Alberta-based company for seven years, faced criticism from investors because of a poor share price performance and U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether the company illegally colluded with Chesapeake Energy Corp to lower the price of Michigan exploration lands.

However, the company had begun to benefit from improving natural gas prices, and last month PetroChina agreed to pay C$2.2 billion ($2.24 billion) for a 49.9 percent stake in a prospective Alberta shale gas property.   Continued...