(Reuters) – U.S. oil and gas exploration and production deals rose fivefold in the first quarter over a year-ago, according to consultancy Enverus, in a foreshadowing of recent blockbuster shale mergers.
Some $3.4 billion in deals were struck in the first quarter, compared with $600 million a year-ago, as the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on fuel demand and the oil market. Deal-making has accelerated this quarter versus last year as oil prices recovered, but is down from $27.8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020.
All top five first-quarter deals involved a private company, according to Enverus, a trend it expects to continue this year, including Pioneer Natural Resources Co’s purchase of privately-held DoublePoint Energy LLC for $6.4 billion earlier this month.
“We’re going to continue to see activity trend upwards,” said Andrew Dittmar, a senior analyst with Enverus.
Private companies are more willing to make deals as public companies divest non-core assets and stock prices rise, he said.
Deal activity slowed sharply in the second quarter of last year, with just $2.8 billion in asset sales and mergers, as producers grappled with historically low oil prices, pulled back on drilling and shut wells to avoid losses.
The deals last quarter include Equinor ASA’s $900 million sale of Bakken shale properties to private-equity backed Grayson Mill Energy, and Ovintiv’s $880 million sale of shale properties to Validus Energy.
Samson Resources also in March closed a sale of its Powder River Basin assets to Continental Resources. That same month Enerplus completed its $465 million cash acquisition of Bakken shale operator Bruin E&P.