In December, domestic oil and gas deals started popping up like prairie dogs. Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR ) made a potentially amazing oil acquisition, and Devon Energy began its transformation by shedding some deepwater assets. Ultra Petroleum boosted its stake in the Marcellus shale by nearly 50%, and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) took an even bigger plunge into the Marcellus and other unconventional gas plays with its purchase of XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO ) .
After a quick holiday breather, the oil patch is percolating once again.
On Monday, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) found an eager new pupil in Total, bringing the company on board a $2.25 billion joint venture in the Barnett shale.
The same day, and flying somewhat under the radar, was Anadarko Petroleum's (NYSE: APC ) agreement to pick up most of the assets of TXCO Resources out of bankruptcy, at a price nearly 40% higher than the $223 million Newfield Exploration agreed to pay back in November. This certainly underlines Anadarko's enthusiasm for the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas, in which the company is already active alongside names like Pioneer Natural Resources.
The following day, Noble Energy (NYSE: NBL ) announced it was picking up most of Suncor Energy's (NYSE: SU ) assets in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg Basin for nearly half a billion bones. Suncor, following last year's mega-merger, has more natural gas assets than the oil-focused company really wants. Noble is a natural acquirer here, given that it's already active in the area -- including the highly economic Wattenberg field.
Some observers took the XTO buyout as a signal that the other independents are all "in play," but I don't necessarily see things shaking out that way. I do, however, expect this steamy pace of asset acquisitions and divestitures to continue. That alone should do interesting things for sector valuations.