Pa. native takes helm at Range Resources

Posted by Cliff White on June 30, 2011 

A Pennsylvania native and Penn State graduate is taking over the reins at Range Resources, one of the major players in the natural gas play in the Marcellus Shale.

Jeffrey L. Ventura will take over as the president and CEO of Range Resources when John H. Pinkerton moves on to become the executive chairman of the board on Jan. 1, 2012. The change was announced Monday.

Ventura, 53, is from Penns Hills, in Allegheny County, and majored in petroleum and natural gas engineering at Penn State. He worked for years in Texas at various energy companies before landing at Range in 2003. At that time, the company was worth $400 million and its stock was selling at $4 per share.

Ventura pushed for an aggressive strategy in pursuing the gas reserves locked in the tight-rock formation of the Marcellus, implementing cutting-edge techniques formulated by another Pennsylvania native, William Zagorski, the company's vice president of technology.

Ventura’s persistence and Range’s deep financial commitment to the Marcellus project paid off in a big way. The company was able to figure out how to successfully draw gas from the Marcellus, and in what was perhaps an even greater feat, keep mum about it long enough to sign up a substantial amount of leased acreage at bargain basement prices.

Thanks in large part to his efforts, the company is now valued at more than $8 billion and has a share price of more than $50.

Range’s advancement of Ventura is certainly a well-deserved reward for him (he’ll be making more than $5 million a year), but what does it mean for the company and for everyday Pennsylvanians?

Along with Range’s sale of all of its properties in Texas’ Barnett Shale, the other large natural gas play in the U.S., Ventura’s promotion signifies Range’s commitment to the Marcellus Shale as its primary investment. For the Fort Worth-based company to forsake Texas for the rolling hills of the Keystone State, it must be obvious to the company’s board of directors that the Marcellus is a clear moneymaker in the long-term.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Ventura was responsible for Range moving its Appalachia operation headquarters from Ohio to Pittsburgh, bringing in about 300 jobs to the state. One would assume that total will rise in coming years.

Range has been somewhat of an industry trendsetter in establishing best practices for drilling techniques, and has pushed in some cases for tighter regulation of the drilling process. But Ventura has a board of directors and thousands of stockholders to answer to, and there can be no doubt that his primary focus will be on his own company’s bottom line, not the environment. A nice byproduct of that focus could and should be economic development within the state of Pennsylvania.

It’s not Range Resource’s job to be establishing the legal requirements by which gas drillers should be allowed to operate (the DEP has taken criticism for its lax oversight of the drilling process, and both former Gov. Rendell and current Gov. Corbett have been accused of not pushing hard enough for more regulation).

Nor is it Ventura’s job to make sure Pennsylvanians see profit from the exploitation of the Marcellus (he has publicly stated he feels no remorse for those who signed leases at $50 an acre when neighbors later received more than $5,000 an acre, as he says royalties will make everyone wealthy).

Ventura doesn’t have to be responsible for Pennsylvania’s economic development, preserving its environment, or making sure those who own that land being drilled are fairly compensated for their resource. But there is some evidence -- and I hold out hope that over time, it will prove the case – that Ventura goes beyond what he has to be responsible for and proves to be a businessman who looks out for the greater good.

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