Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Encana Corp. on Wednesday vowed to fight charges they colluded to keep down prices in a 2010 lease sale in Michigan.
Representatives for the oil and natural gas producers made their initial appearances Wednesday on antitrust charges filed earlier this month by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.
“This action has no merit, and we will vigorously contest it,” Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer said.
Chesapeake and Encana were charged March 4 with two misdemeanor counts of antitrust violations.
The more serious charge carries up to a $1 million fine for corporations.
Prosecutors claim Chesapeake and Encana executives conspired in a series of emails to divide up oil and gas leases in Michigan, according to the charges.
The emails, made public in 2012 by Reuters, included discussions between the companies’ executives about an arrangement to split up Michigan counties so that each company would be an exclusive bidder for public and private leases.
Both companies have cleared themselves of any wrongdoing after independent investigations.
“A thorough investigation conducted by independent counsel retained by Chesapeake’s board in 2012 concluded that Chesapeake’s activities in Michigan did not violate antitrust laws,” Pennoyer said.
Encana spokesman Doug Hock said information obtained since the company completed its investigation indicates Encana and Chesapeake remained “fiercely competitive” while both were actively purchasing leases in Michigan.
“When all of the evidence is viewed by the courts, we believe the conclusion will be clear that Encana did not breach any antitrust laws,” Hock said. “The public has only seen limited and select material related to this case as reported in the media.”
Chesapeake and Encana are due back in court May 5, when a preliminary exam is scheduled to begin.
Chesapeake still faces a federal inquiry into its lease purchasing practices by the antitrust division of the U.S. Justice Department, according to a recent regulatory filing. The company indicated it is cooperating with the investigation.