US regulators criticize Buffett’s failed $1.3B pipeline deal

AP Business
Warren Buffett

FILE – In this May 5, 2019, file photo Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, smiles as he plays bridge following the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb. Buffett’s company is abandoning its purchase of a natural gas pipeline from Dominion Energy because of uncertainty about whether the deal could get regulatory approval. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will receive a $1.3 billion refund on the proposed purchase of Questar Pipelines that was also supposed to include $430 million of Dominion’s debt when it was announced a year ago. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Federal regulators say Berkshire Hathaway’s $1.3 billion deal to buy a natural gas pipeline from Dominion Energy that fell apart this week should have never been attempted because a similar deal drew strong opposition in the past.

The acting director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, Holly Vedova, said Tuesday that the companies involved should have known that the deal was unlikely to get approved because the agency previously opposed a similar combination involving Dominion’s Questar pipeline and Berkshire’s Kern River pipeline.

“It is disappointing that the FTC had to expend significant resources to review this transaction when we previously filed suit in 1995 to block the same combination,” Vedova said. “Given our prior action, and the even closer competition that developed between the pipelines since then, this is representative of the type of transaction that should not make it out of the boardroom.”

Vedova noted the Kern River and Questar pipelines are the only two pipelines that bring natural gas from where it is produced in the Rocky Mountains to central Utah, so allowing the two to combine would undermine the competition that benefits consumers.

Questar has been a part of Dominion since 2016 and Berkshire’s utility division acquired Kern River in 2002, so neither parent company was involved when Questar tried to buy 50% ownership of the Kern River pipeline in 1995.

Officials with the utility division of Warren Buffett’s company did not immediately respond to questions about the deal on Tuesday. Dominion officials declined to comment.

Berkshire and Dominion announced Monday that they were abandoning the deal because of uncertainty about whether regulators would approve it.

Dominion said it plans to find another buyer for its Questar Pipelines unit by the end of the year, and it will refund the $1.3 billion that Berkshire paid to acquire the pipeline after the deal was announced a year ago.

Separate from the Questar deal, Berkshire spent $2.7 billion to buy some of Dominion’s other natural gas transmission and storage assets, including over 5,500 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines and about 775 billion cubic feed of gas storage facilities. Berkshire also took on $5.3 billion of the Richmond, Virginia-based Dominion’s debt as part of that transaction.

The Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire conglomerate owns several major utilities, BNSF railroad, several large insurers including Geico, and an assortment of manufacturing and retail companies as part of a collection of more than 90 businesses. Berkshire also holds sizeable stock investments in Apple, Bank of America, Coca-Cola and other companies.

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