It's an adventure keeping tabs on the constant flow of activity at Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) , easily the busiest member of the U.S. oil and gas contingent. As the second week of April comes to a close, the company appears to have a pair of new projects under way.
Although it's not holiday season, Chesapeake is buying itself a pony. Or more accurately, the Oklahoma-based company has said it will spend about $315 million to acquire Bronco Drilling (Nasdaq: BRNC ) , another member of the Okie energy set. The total price will result in $11.00 for each Bronco share, for premiums of 6% over the company's closing price on Thursday, April 14. It also comes to 24% above the average closing price for the 90-calendar day period ending on the same day.
Most of Bronco's 22 rigs are currently operating in the Williston Basin of Montana and the Dakotas (including the increasingly active Bakken Formation) and the Anadarko Basin. Those rigs will be added to the 95 now owned by Chesapeake's wholly-owned subsidiary, Nomac Drilling. Chesapeake is currently operating 160 rigs, including contracted units, and expects to end next year at about 200 working rigs, although its additional purchases are likely to be minimal.
In announcing the acquisition, which is expected to close in the second quarter, Cheasapeake CEO Aubrey K. McClendon said, "The acquisition of Bronco is a great additional step in our vertical integration strategy and increases confidence in our plan to ramp up drilling activities in … liquids-rich unconventional resource plays." That description would, of course, include the Bakken.
Chesapeake's other significant project involves an apparent effort to sign on a partner to help it to develop its 1.3 million newly-acquired acres in the Utica Shale formation in Ohio. Possible partners could include the likes of Australia's BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , China's CNOOC (NYSE: CEO ) , France's Total (NYSE: TOT ) , and BP (NYSE: BP ) . BHP recently acquired Chesapeake's Fayetteville Shale assets, and the other companies have completed transactions with the company elsewhere.
As is the case with the liquids-rich Eagle Ford play in Texas, for instance, Chesapeake is leading the pack in gobbling up acreage in the Utica, where expenditures totaling about $1.5 billion have allowed it to lease at least 50% of the field. The Utica lies beneath much of the Marcellus Shale, which is located in several northeastern states.
The Utica produces a combination of oil and gas, but because it's just beginning to be worked, its oil composition hasn't been defined. Earlier this year, Range Resources (NYSE: RRC ) produced 4.4 million cubic feet of natural gas per day from its initial well.
Locating a partner will assist Chesapeake in meeting its objective of cutting its debt by 25%, while raising its production by the same percentage by the end of 2012. But rest assured, before long Aubrey McClendon and his team will have other projects and objectives in the works. That's a sufficient reason to ascertain that the company is included on your watchlist.