Southwestern, Chesapeake Energy close to $17 billion merger – source

(Reuters) -U.S. natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy and peer Southwestern Energy are nearing a merger that would create a nearly $17 billion company, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

The deal could come together as soon as next week provided the talks do not fall apart, the source said, requesting anonymity since talks are private.

Reuters had reported in October that Chesapeake was exploring an acquisition of Southwestern.

A potential deal could create a company that would overtake EQT as the largest natural gas-focused exploration and production firm in the U.S. by market value, at a time when shale companies seeking scale and efficiencies are fueling a rapid consolidation in the energy sector.

Shares of Southwestern and Chesapeake closed more than 7% and 3%, respectively, after the Wall Street Journal reported the talks earlier in the day.

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

The deal talks come against the backdrop of a sluggish U.S. natural gas prices. U.S. natural gas futures ended 2023 with the biggest percentage decline since 2006 due to record production, ample inventories and a mild winter.

Chesapeake has been shedding oil-producing assets to focus on its competence in natural gas since emerging from bankruptcy in 2021.

The two companies are neighbors; most of Southwestern’s production is in Appalachia’s shale formations and the Haynesville basin in Louisiana, where Chesapeake also operates.

(Reporting by Tanay Dhumal in Bengaluru and Anirban Sen in New York; Editing by Pooja Desai and Sriraj Kalluvila)