BHP Billiton Makes Push Into U.S. Shale Gas

Shares of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHP) leaped 7% on Tuesday as shareholders applaud the No. 2 U.S. gas producer’s decision to unload some of its shale natural gas reserves to mining giant BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) for $4.75 billion.

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake plans to use proceeds from the sale to pay down its mounting debt.

BHP’s acquisition of Chesapeake's 75% stake in the Fayetteville shale play in central Arkansas marks the miner’s first major move to scoop up natural gas resources.

The sale includes existing net production of about 415 million cubic feet of natural gas equivalent a day and midstream assets with about 420 miles of pipeline.

The companies expect the deal to close in the first half of 2011.

“We are pleased to announce the sale of our Fayetteville Shale assets to BHP Billiton and quickly achieve substantial progress in implementing the debt reduction targets of our previously announced 25/25 Plan,” Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said in a statement.

Chesapeake, which is set to report results after the closing bell, soared 6.93% to $32.55 in the wake of the deal announcement, giving it a 2011 surge of 17%. The stock has rallied more than 35% over the past 13 weeks.

“The purchase of this long-life field immediately adds over 10 trillion cubic feet of gas resources to our portfolio and is consistent with our strategy of investing in large, low cost assets with significant volume growth for future development,” BHP Billiton Petroleum CEO J. Michael Yeager said in the statement.

Shares of BHP gained 1.24% to $93.54 in U.S. trading, cutting its 2011 loss to 0.6%.