Oil major Total SA signed a $2.3 billion deal with Chesapeake Energy Corp and EnerVest, continuing a trend of European and Asian oil and gas companies buying into U.S. shale plays.

The deal will give Total a 25 percent stake in a joint venture with the two U.S. companies in the liquids-rich Utica Shale area of eastern Ohio, the French company said in a statement on Tuesday.

North America has in recent years seen a boom in energy resources such as shale gas, raising the prospect that the world's largest economy may lower its dependence on imported energy.

Total has paid $610 million to Chesapeake, while EnerVest is receiving $290 million. Chesapeake will receive a further $1.42 billion contribution to drilling and well completion costs, expected by the end of 2014, it said in a separate statement.

This is consistent with our strategy to develop positions in unconventional plays with large potential and, in this case, with value predominantly linked to (the) oil price, Total Exploration and Production President Yves-Louis Darricarrere said.

He added that the venture would provide Total with a material position in a valuable long-term resource base under attractive terms.

Total, which already has a joint venture with Chesapeake in the Barnett Shale area in Texas, has said it is looking to boost its position in U.S. shale basins that have crude oil or natural gas with a high liquids content, making it more valuable than dry gas.

Chesapeake, the second-biggest U.S. producer of natural gas, had previously announced a joint venture with an undisclosed major international energy company on some of its prospective acreage in the Utica Shale area in November.


The latest joint venture with Total covers about 619,000 net acres, of which 77,000 were contributed by Houston-based EnerVest, Chesapeake said.

Analyst Dominique Patry at brokerage CA Cheuvreux wrote in a research note that the deal was not cheap, with Total -- whose shares he rates as outperform with a target price of 46 euros -- paying $14,800 per acre.

This deal is consistent with Total's strategy to develop positions in unconventional plays with large potential especially when they are linked to oil prices, Patry wrote.

There is no production to date but 13 wells have been drilled across the acreage with very promising results seen from each well in terms of productivity and liquid content.

Thin profitability, due to low U.S. gas prices, has not diminished foreigners' enthusiasm for the controversial energy resource.

Statoil last October paid $4.4 billion for Brigham Exploration to boost its unconventional energy resources in the United States, one of its key growth areas. India's Reliance is also looking to invest more in the U.S. shale gas sector.

Concerns about water table pollution, tremors and gas leakage are slowing the expansion of shale gas, but with the biggest oil and gas reserve holders limiting foreign investment in their energy sectors, the big western oil and gas majors are increasingly focusing on OECD countries such as the United States and Australia.

Total shares were little changed, down 0.2 percent at 39.93 euros by 0853 GMT.

(Additional reporting by Tom Bergin and Caroline Jacobs; Editing by Christian Plumb and David Holmes)