The Marcellus continues to mesmerize aspiring shale players. We've seen Statoil team up with Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK), Williams (NYSE: WMB) join up with Rex Energy, and Mitsui & Co. partner with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC). Even ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) has set up stakes in the Appalachian natural gas play.

Supporting my thesis that Asia's shale gas appetite is growing, India's Reliance Industries was said to be in talks with Atlas Energy (Nasdaq: ATLS) about a billion-dollar Marcellus joint venture. We'll have more to say on that one once a deal actually materializes. For now, CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX) remains in the spotlight.

A week ago, CONSOL grabbed a big piece of Marcellus real estate through a deal with Dominion. I said that the coal firm got gas, and I meant that in more ways than one. The firm understands the hurdles that coal is likely to face in the years ahead. Cap and trade may never move forward, but some form of carbon tax remains quite likely. CONSOL is diversifying into coal's natural successor: natural gas.

Today's offer to buy out the piece of CNX Gas (NYSE: CXG) that CONSOL doesn't already own further underlines the firm's aggressive strategy. The move could signal an attempt to sew up this stake before beaten-down natural gas prices rebound. Given that CONSOL already owned 83% of CNX Gas, you couldn't characterize this as an attempt to block a third-party takeover.

Whether you view this acquisition as a timely move depends a lot on your outlook for natural gas in 2010. While I'm pretty agnostic on that issue, the larger strategic rationale appears sound.