| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Privately-held natural gas exploration and production company Rice Energy is planning for an initial public offering that could value the company at as much as $2.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
Rice Energy, which was founded by a former BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) portfolio manager and his children, has already filed a confidential registration statement with U.S. regulators, three of the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is not public.
It has tapped Barclays PLC (BARC.L) to lead the IPO, two of the people said.
The family-owned company, which has focused its efforts on Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale and Ohio's Utica shale, could have an enterprise value between $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion, according to one of the people. The company is targetting early 2014 for its IPO, the people said.
Private equity firm Natural Gas Partners (NGP) has also backed the company. Since 2011, NGP has committed to invest up to $400 million with Rice Energy.
The firm was founded by former BlackRock portfolio manager Daniel Rice and his children. Rice left BlackRock last year in the wake of a potential conflict of interest that involved the energy company.
The possible conflict stemmed from a joint venture formed with Alpha Natural Resources and a subsidiary of the natural gas drilling company founded by Rice. BlackRock increased its ownership in Alpha Natural Resources after the joint venture was formed.
Rice's son Toby Rice is chief executive of the company.
Barclays declined to comment, while Rice Energy could not be immediately reached for comment.
(Reporting by Michael Erman, Olivia Oran and Soyoung Kim in New York; editing by Andrew Hay)