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Consolidation Continues as EQT Grabs More Core Appalachia Acreage For $527M

EQT Corp. on Thursday followed through again with its intent to continue consolidating core acreage in Appalachia, this time announcing that it outbid two other producers during a bankruptcy auction for about 85,000 net acres from Stone Energy Corp.

The company bid $527 million for 53,400 net Marcellus acres in West Virginia, including drilling rights on 44,100 net Utica acres, and 32,000 noncore acres in Northwest Pennsylvania. The deal must be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas at a hearing on Friday. If approved, it is expected to close later this month.

Most of the acreage, EQT said, is within its core liquids-rich development areas in Wetzel, Marshall, Tyler and Marion counties, WV. The acquisition includes 173 new Marcellus locations and is 86% held by production. It also gives EQT 174 Marcellus wells and current natural gas production of 80 MMcfe/d in addition to 20 miles of gathering pipeline.

Last week, EQT said it purchased another 14,000 acres in Marion and Monongalia counties. That deal came after a larger one with Statoil ASA in the state and the acquisition of small West Virginia pure-play Trans Energy Inc. last year. Not including Thursday's announcement, EQT has added 230,000 net core acres since 2013, with management saying on its year-end earnings call last week that it intends to continue acquiring more to block-up its position and extend laterals.

Louisiana-based Stone was one of the first producers to bring online a deep Utica well in West Virginia, announcing in 2014 that a well on its Pribble pad in Wetzel County tested at a peak five-day rate of 30 MMcf/d. But low commodity prices in Appalachia squeezed the company, and it disclosed last August before filing bankruptcy that it was negotiating the sale of its assets in the basin. By October, it had entered a purchase and sale agreement to sell the properties to an affiliate of Tug Hill Inc. for $360 million in conjunction with a restructuring agreement it had reached with its creditors.

Stone filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of last year to wipe out $1.2 billion of debt. The court later authorized EQT and upstart exploration and production company, American Petroleum Partners LLC (APP), to bid in an auction for the assets, with Tug Hill's $360 million purchase agreement serving as the stalking horse bid.

APP was outbid by $1 million on Wednesday. Stone would use a portion of the proceeds to pay the break-up fee to Tug Hill for its stalking horse bid. If the Appalachian sale is approved, Stone would be left with deep water producing assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

EQT intends to fund the purchase with cash on hand, which at year-end was $1.4 billion. Stone said in December that it should emerge from bankruptcy in March.

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