The launch of a formal sale process by the U.S. natural gas producer, however, could be delayed as it works through the exit of Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler, the sources said, declining to be identified as the plan is confidential.
Chesapeake, which is the second largest U.S. shale gas producer according to energy analytics firm Enverus, declined to comment on the sale consideration. Its shares jumped as much as 4% after the news and closed 1.6% higher at $46.83.
The assets, spread over 220,000 acres in the Eagle Ford shale basin, produced 84,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the fourth quarter and only 26% of that was natural gas.
“Given that Eagle Ford deals have mostly had private equity buyers in recent years, this could set up to be one of the bigger acquisitions by a private equity-sponsored producer,” Andrew Dittmar, an M&A analyst at Enverus, said.
Offloading the South Texas acreage would mean shifting focus back to natural gas, a strategic reversal outlined by Lawler in an interview in February with Reuters. read more
Lawler, who will leave at the end of April, took over eight years ago from billionaire founder Aubrey McClendon amid an antitrust probe in 2013 and had unsuccessfully tried to pivot Chesapeake’s focus away from natural gas to oil.
The Oklahoma City-based company was saddled with more than $9 billion debt and filed for bankruptcy last year amid the pandemic-driven oil price collapse.
The company set aside just 8% of its 2021 budget for South Texas, while 85% of the total $650 million was earmarked for gas-rich plays in the Appalachian basin in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio as well as the Gulf Coast.
Almost two-thirds of its fourth-quarter production of around 435,000 boepd was natural gas.