ANCHORAGE -- Williams Cos. announced Tuesday it plans to sell its businesses in Alaska, including the North Pole refinery, convenience stores and stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline.
The decision will shed Williams of its Alaska properties, said Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams Alaska.
Williams Alaska Inc. has about 500 employees statewide. It will be up to the new buyer whether or not to keep the employees, Cook said.
''At this point it will be business as usual,'' he said.
The Tulsa, Okla.-based company said it also will sell its Memphis, Tenn., refining business. Williams said it had received one unsolicited offer to buy the refining and marketing businesses in Tennessee and Alaska. It declined to name the possible buyer.
Williams acquired the North Pole refinery in March 1998 when it bought fellow Tulsa energy company Mapco Inc. The refinery was never part of Williams' core businesses, Cook said.
''Obviously these assets are being put up for sale because they are noncore and good performing assets,'' he said.
Williams announced previously that it plans to sell approximately $3 billion in assets as part of an overall plan to improve its balance sheet by $8 billion.
A year ago, Williams was earning good profits from long-term contracts managing risks in deregulated power markets. It also had successfully spun off a second telecommunications subsidiary in six years.
But now the company is suffering from Enron Corp.'s bankruptcy and federal regulators are questioning its energy trades.
Williams stock has fallen more than 80 percent. Shares closed Tuesday up 10 cents to $7.65, but the announcement came after the New York Stock Exchange closed.
In Alaska, Williams said it will sell the North Pole refinery, two petroleum products terminals, 29 convenience stores, a 3 percent stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline and its ownership in the Anchorage CargoPort facility.
The Alaska refinery has a crude oil processing capacity of 220,000 barrels a day. About 60 percent of production is jet fuel for airlines and the military. The other 40 percent goes to producing other fuels and asphalt.
Williams distributes its products through a 20,000-barrel jet fuel terminal at Fairbanks International Airport and a 700,000-barrel terminal at the Port of Anchorage.
''I think these are good assets. I assume they will be picked up in fairly short order,'' said Bob King, spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles.
The state will not be involved in what it considers a private business transaction, King said. However, it will be keeping an eye to make sure it doesn't weaken competition in Alaska.
Tesoro Petroleum Corp. of San Antonio, Texas, is the other main refinery operating in Alaska. It also announced Tuesday that it is seeking to shave about $500 million off its debt by the end of 2003 by cutting capital spending and selling assets.
''Hopefully the oil and gas industry is strong enough to give them what they need,'' said Rhonda Boyles, mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, of Williams decision to sell its Alaska assets.
Boyles said Williams has been a very good corporate citizen that attracts civic-minded employees.
Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, agreed. She said Williams Alaska has been a major supporter of the local chapters of the United Way and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
''We will be hopeful that whoever buys it will be as good a corporate citizen as Williams,'' she said.
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