French oil giant Total (Paris:TOTF) has acquired a $2.32 billion stake in Chesapeake Energy Corporation's (NYSE:CHK) Utica shale region in Ohio, a move that signifies an increasing shift toward new energy sources as crude oil prices continue to rise.
Chesapeake -- the U.S.'s second-largest natural gas producer -- announced the transaction early Tuesday, noting it had struck the deal with Total on Dec. 31. Chesapeake originally announced it was in the process of forming a partnership in November but did not specify any partners. In the joint venture, Total will acquire a 25 percent interest in a 619,000 net-acre portion of the Utica Shale region in eastern Ohio.
This is consistent with our strategy to develop positions in unconventional plays with large potential and, in this case, with value predominantly linked to oil price, Yves Louis Darricarrere, Total's president, said in a statement.
This [joint venture] will provide us with a material position in a valuable long-term resource base under attractive terms and with a top-class operator. Total is conscious of the environmental aspects linked to developing shale acreage and is confident in Chesapeake's capacity to manage the Utica Shale operations in a responsible manner, utilizing the highest industry standards in this respect.
Total has had a joint venture with Chesapeake since 2010, in the Barnett Shale region of Texas. Total has said it is hoping to explore shale formations globally, noting in October that it was looking to partner in China with a Chinese corporation.
Total paid $610 million to Chesapeake at the deal's closing, and Chesapeake expects to receive $1.42 billion in drilling and well-completion royalties by the end of 2014. Total also paid about $290 million to Houston-based EnerVest -- a minority partner -- which contributed about 77,000 acres.
We believe the Utica acreage is a good asset for Total, analysts at Bernstein wrote in a research note, Reuters reported. We continue to believe that long-term unconventional assets such as shale oil and gas acreage can deliver stable production and increasingly positive cashflows, given that we expect the oil price to remain high in the long term.
Chesapeake, meanwhile, hopes to reduce long-term debt by as much as 25 percent in the near future. Both the immediate and long-term payout can help with those goals.
We are pleased to extend our existing relationship with Total as a JV partner in the Barnett Shale to now include the Utica Shale, Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake's chief executive officer, said in a statement. We believe that the Utica Shale is a world-class asset with world-class returns and now we have a world-class partner to help develop the play more aggressively than we could have with our own resources.
The techniques used in shale drilling -- better known as hydroraulic fracturing or fracking -- have been cause for concern among environmentalists and others who say it can harm the environment and drinking water, and even be a precursor to earthquakes.
Shares of Chesapeake Energy jumped over 4 percent on the news, before settling at $23.14, up 85 cents, or 3.81 percent in early afternoon trading.