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California company to buy Willmut Gas & Oil

HATTIESBURG — A San Diego-based energy company has announced plans to buy a natural gas utility in Mississippi.

Sempra Energy spokesman Scott Crider said the company hoped to complete the purchase of Hattiesburg-based Willmut Gas & Oil Co. by the end of June. The deal must be approved by the Mississippi Public Service Commission. No price was disclosed.

Sempra would add 21,000 natural gas customers in Forrest, Lamar, Covington, Jones, Rankin and Simpson counties in Mississippi.

Crider said it’s too early to say whether the purchase would have any effect on customer rates.

Willmut would be folded into Sempra’s U.S. Gas & Power unit, which also includes Mobile Gas Service Corp., a 90,000-customer natural gas utility based in Mobile, Ala.

Sempra bought that utility, as well as natural gas storage facilities, in a $510 million deal in 2004. Sempra gained an underground natural gas storage facility in Simpson County in that purchase. The company also owns pipelines in the Southeast, and a liquefied natural gas terminal in Louisiana.

“We think it’s complementary to other assets throughout the Southeast,” Crider said. “We think this is going to be a great business to be in for the long term.”

Sempra’s main U.S. utilities are San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Co. The Fortune 500 company, which had $9 billion in revenues in 2010, also owns utilities in Mexico and South America.

Willmut has been led by the Tatum family since 1934. Will Tatum, who was mayor of Hattiesburg at the time, helped bring natural gas service to the city and his son bought the company shortly thereafter. The company’s name was derived from the mayor’s first name and the last syllable of his last name spelled backwards.

It’s the second time in the last decade that a locally owned gas utility in Mississippi has been sold to a larger out-of-state firm. Atmos Energy bought Mississippi Valley Gas for $150 million in 2002.


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