Chesapeake offers its workers ‘voluntary separation’

Cash-strapped Chesapeake Energy Corp. has offered “voluntary separation” to about 275 employees as part of an effort to improve efficiency and cut costs, the company said Friday.

The nation’s second-largest natural gas producer after Exxon Mobil Corp has struggled to fund its operations and service its debt payments since natural gas prices plummeted to their lowest levels in a decade earlier this year.

The Oklahoma City-based company has taken on more debt, most recently reported at nearly $16 billion, as it has attempted to shift its efforts to focus more on production of oil and other hydrocarbons. But 79 percent of the company’s overall production remains in low-priced natural gas.

The voluntary separation effort is part of a plan to cut costs as the company attempts to trim its budget and narrow its focus.

“This program is designed to give our longer-term employees the chance to benefit from their years of service to Chesapeake while furthering our efforts to maximize corporate performance and maintain our leadership role in this competitive and constantly evolving industry,” Martha A. Burger, Chesapeake’s senior vice president of human and corporate resources, said in a statement.

Eligible employees will have 45 days to consider the separation offer, the company said.

“The voluntary program is being offered to approximately 275 employees who meet criteria based upon a combination of age and years of Chesapeake service,” the company said in a statement.

Employees who take the offer will leave the company in February, although Chesapeake has retained the right to delay departures “to ensure appropriate staffing levels to meet business needs,” the company said.

A Chesapeake spokesman declined to comment on the potential for layoffs at the company, or on the location of workers who were given the offers.

Chesapeake has 2,400 employees in Texas, including 35 in Houston.

The news was apparently not too alarming to investors, as shares in Chesapeake fell less than 1 percent on the New York Stock Exchange, to $16.56.