Natural Gas Stocks Unshaken by Debate Over Policy

Even with uncertainty in the energy sector, these three companies are positioning themselves for the long-haul -- and expecting good things.

Feb 24, 2014 at 12:26PM

U.S. natural gas has been a hot topic in discussions lately, especially in the wake of President Obama's State of the Union address. Politicians, news reporters, and practically everyone with whom I've come in contact seem to hold quite strong opinions on the matter. And that's fine. But, even amid all the clamor and noise, natural gas-related companies are still moving full steam ahead—and seemingly in the right direction.

Production and Partnerships fuel growth
EQT Corporation (NYSE:EQT)
continues to drive and drill toward riches. In 2013 for instance, EQT recorded annual production sales volume 43% higher than 2012 while ending the year with reserves of 8.3 Tcfe—39% higher than the previous year. Moving forward, the company shows no signs of slowing down; it plans to invest $1.6 billion for well development this year alone, setting up for great production results in 2015 and 2016. And remarkably, the expenditures will be funded by cash on hand. Additionally, EQT's adjusted net income reached $352.4 million, a 66% increase from 2012 (although, it is important to note that EQT completed the sale of Equitable Gas LLC in 2013). Even beyond these remarkable production and profit numbers, though, EQT continues to focus on the long term.

Partnerships that last
For example, EQT Midstream Partners (NYSE:EQM), which provides EQT Production with transmission, storage, and gathering services, recently struck a deal with a subsidiary of EQT Corporation's competitor Range Resources (NYSE:RRC). Under terms of the definitive agreement, EQT Midstream will invest around $55 million in a transmission expansion project, increasing its current daily flow by 100 BBtu.

The fee-based, 10-year volume commitment agreement provides some financial stability for EQT; it still receives compensation even if Range fails to meet agreement specifications. As a result, and because it owns the vast majority of a midstream company, EQT boasts a leg up on other producers. For example, it can much more accurately project and refine its capital expenditure and cash flow needs.

On the other hand, the long-term agreement enables producers like Range Resources to guarantee that its product will get to market. In this case, the transmission expansion will increase Range's capacity by over 300 BBtu/d and allow the company to focus on new well site projects (or further refine existing ones). And by striking the decade-long agreement, both firms show they plan on partnering to continue being some of Appalachia's most integral natural gas players.

Rice implemented EQT's playbook
Former independently owned and operated exploration and production company Rice Energy (NYSE:RICE) is also wheeling and dealing. Beyond its initial public offering last month, the Appalachian-based natural gas firm has attracted much attention. Last week, Rice Energy announced that its wholly owned midstream subsidiary will acquire valuable assets in southwestern Pennsylvania from M3 Midstream, LLC for about $110 million in cash. The move is a major step toward Rice Energy supporting its upstream growth plan via a midstream business unit expansion—similar to EQT.

As a result of the deal, Rice will acquire a 28-mile gathering system along with the permits and rights of way to assemble additional gathering systems. Ultimately, Rice Energy will be able to connect the gathering system to the Spectra Energy's Texas Eastern Pipeline, making a remarkable stretch of pipeline throughout the United States.

Yes, sharing opinions and understanding underlying frameworks is part of the democratic process. And certain policy decisions and other factors most definitely affect the energy business landscape. But, as seen in Appalachia, business is booming no matter how you cut it. 

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Brendan Marasco has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Range Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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