Trans Energy Inc., a small-cap producer that repositioned itself last year, on Tuesday agreed to a joint venture with an affiliate of privately held Republic Energy Inc. -- one of the Barnett Shale's long-time operators -- to develop deep shale natural gas reserves in northern West Virginia. Financial details were not disclosed.

The two companies will conduct seismic data gathering, drilling, coring and completion and production operations jointly in Wetzel County, WV, to develop reserves from the Marcellus, Rhinestreet and other Devonian shale formations at similar depths. The joint venture applies to Wetzel County only, but it may be extended to additional areas if both parties agree.

The companies will each hold a 50% working interest in wells drilled, with the first well expected in July.

"We're very excited about the development program ahead with Republic," said Trans Energy CEO Jim Abcouwer. "There was never any question about taking advantage of our great acreage position in this region where the Marcellus shale is looking like another Barnett-type success story. The only question was how we were going to climb the technical learning curve to maximize the operation. Republic is the answer to that issue -- as well as being an ideal JV [joint venture] partner."

Trans Energy, headquartered in St. Mary's, WV, has concentrated its exploration efforts in the Appalachian Basin. Dallas-based Republic Energy has been an active operator in the Barnett Shale for the past 13 years, and it has drilled more than 350 Barnett and Bend Conglomerate wells. In the past 10 years, the producer has focused on the development of the Barnett Shale, drilling more than 250 wells with a 98% success rate.

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