One of the biggest independent producers of natural gas in the United States just got even bigger.

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) announced Tuesday that it was buying Columbia Natural Resources from Triana Energy Holdings. When the deal closes, it will make Chesapeake the third-largest gas player (in terms of reserves) in the United States -- behind only ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP).

Chesapeake will be paying $2.2 billion in cash and assuming about $75 million in debt for the property. In exchange, they will be getting 1.1 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves and another 1.4 trillion cubic feet of probable and possible reserves. These reserves are 99% natural gas and carry a high enough energy content that they get a premium to the quoted NYMEX prices. In addition to the properties that stretch across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, Chesapeake will be getting the company's midstream assets as well.

Looking at valuation, Chesapeake is paying about $12 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) in proven reserves. Not only does that figure exclude any value for Columbia's midstream assets, but it's also a pretty attractive price in its own right. Chesapeake has been trading at a valuation of just below $13 per boe, and the deal figure is in the same ballpark as those for Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and PetroKazakhstan (NYSE:PKZ). Interestingly, Triana only held this property for about two years, having bought it from NiSource (NYSE:NI) in August of 2003 for about $330 million.

There is no doubt in my mind that Chesapeake is taking an educated gamble here. As the Apache (NYSE:APA) CEO said recently, when energy prices are high, it's generally better to look for growth through the drill bit (meaning more exploration) than to pay up for acquisitions. On the other hand, producing as much natural gas as possible today could be striking while the iron is hot. Furthermore, if natural gas prices stay high, it's a great long-term source of valuable product, especially as the Columbia properties seem to have a long-term inventory of potential drilling projects.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).