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Transco Primed to Deliver for Marcellus Customers, Says Williams CEO

Williams management said Thursday it is primed for continued growth from the Marcellus Shale because producers want more natural gas takeaway capacity and stalwart Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line (Transco) is ready to deliver the goods.

CEO Alan Armstrong, who shared a microphone with his management team to discuss the quarterly performance with financial analysts, pointed to recent acquisitions and expansions that have positioned the company and Williams Partners LP (WPZ), which it controls, "as the leading infrastructure solution provider in the Marcellus Shale."

On Friday the $2.5 billion acquisition of Marcellus gas processor Caiman Eastern Midstream is scheduled to be completed, tethered by long-term contracts that include 236,000 of dedicated gathering acres from 10 producers (see Shale Daily, March 20).

Between now and 2014 Williams plans to spend $9.8-11.3 billion in North American growth projects, mostly in the Marcellus Shale, where demand for takeaway capacity from producers continues to grow, the CEO said. Among the new projects coming into the portfolio is the Constitution Pipeline, set to ramp up in the spring of 2015 (see related story).

Transco also is attracting another market that could be a key to future growth, "driven by increased demand for gas-fired power generation," said Armstrong. "Power generation is the driver behind about a third of the volumes in proposed projects in development on our Transco pipeline. We anticipate three Transco expansion projects coming online this year."

With Transco the main lighthouse for new activity coming into the harbor, Williams is sharply focused on the Susquehanna Supply Hub strategy, where gathering volumes jumped 60% in 1Q2012 from a year ago. The Constitution pipeline, as well as last year's acquisition of the Laser Northeast Gathering System are the primary portfolio items, but by 2015 the hub is forecast to be capable of delivering more than 3 Bcf/d of Marcellus gas output into four major interstate gas systems, Armstrong said.

Midstream chief Rory Miller also reiterated WPZ's projections by 2015 to expand takeaway capacity from the Marcellus to 5 Bcf/d from the partnership's current takeaway of 1.1 Bcf/d. That number is reachable, he told analysts.

The 500% explosion in capacity output "is really around construction, and that is not a straight-line event," Miller said. "We've been pretty candid about the challenges, but we've got the right team in place...We're defining the construction up there...working through the process...and it gets better every month..."

Transco's infrastructure plans include the:

"Besides Transco, [there are other] drivers to serve producers' needs out of the Marcellus that are also getting a lot of interest from the market...like power plant conversions," said Armstrong. "There's a real concern on the part of power generators that they have plenty of reliable access on power generation long term.

"The Marcellus is perfectly positioned to do this on supplies for the South and on the Midcontinent supplies from the Barnett, Haynesville that come into Transco Station 85, as well as Gulf Coast supplies...Transco is extremely well positioned with multi-route lines," the CEO said. That is driving a lot of interest in demand as the pipe of choice."

According to Transco's electronic bulletin board, almost 1 Bcf/d of supply was scheduled to flow into Transco's Leidy Line -- which picks up Marcellus supply primarily in Pennsylvania's Clinton, Lycoming, Sullivan, and Luzerne counties -- for gas day April 26 (see chart).

Beyond the Marcellus, the portfolio for North America is tied to unconventional oil and gas growth over the next two years that includes:

Armstrong also told analysts to expect to see WPZ's fee-based revenues jump to more than 80% by 2014. Fee-based sales in 2011 contributed around $3.5 billion of total gross margins, but in 2014 those revenues are forecast to increase to $4.5 billion, led by a big jump in midstream to 43% from 2011's 27%.

Demand revenue for gas pipeline fee-based sales over the next two years is forecast to drop to 38% from 41%, while midstream non-ethane margins would fall to 13% from 21%. Down by half are ethane margins, at 4% from 8%, according to the forecast.

The Tulsa-based operator's quarterly performance recorded a boost in sales year/year (y/y), largely because of WPZ. Williams earned $423 million (70 cents/share), up 13% from year-ago earnings of $321 million (54 cents). Continuing operations delivered adjusted earnings of 39 cents/share, ahead of Wall Street's expectation's of 36 cents. Revenue rose to $1.69 billion from $1.57 billion.

Net profits y/y for WPZ were $348 million, versus $307 million (81 cents). Gains were attributed to higher fee-based sales, as well as higher margins.

Because of the growth expected over this year, Williams now expects to earn $1.20-1.60/share for the year on an adjusted basis -- just one month ago Williams had given a guidance forecast for the year of $1.15-1.55.

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