Natural Gas Giant EQT Buys Marcellus Assets Of Alta Resources For $2.9 Billion

Joe Greenberg launched Alta in 1999 with backing from the family of fracking pioneer George Mitchell.

This week EQT announced the $2.9 billion acquisition of the Marcellus shale assets of Alta Resources. The package consists of roughly 300,000 net acres in the core northeastern Marcellus currently producing 1 billion cubic feet per day of dry gas, plus integrated pipeline assets. The purchase price is $1 billion in cash plus 105 million shares of common stock, worth some $1.925 billion.

Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp.
, formerly known as Equitable Gas, is already the nation’s biggest producer of natural gas, pumping nearly 4 billion cubic feet per day from the Marcellus shale gas fields of Pennsylvania.

The deal is another win for Alta’s veteran CEO Joseph Greenberg. Houston-based Alta Resources was founded in 1999 by Greenberg, who studied geology at Yale, then worked at Shell Oil, followed by Edge Petroleum where he met J. Todd Mitchell, son of the late billionaire George Mitchell (d. 2013), who had pioneered new methods of fracking for natural gas. 

Backed by Mitchell, Greenberg invested into new shale discoveries. In the Fayetteville shale fields of Arkansas, he assembled an acreage position that Alta sold to Petrohawk and XTO Energy for $550 million in 2008. In the Marcellus, Alta sold some early acreage holdings to WPX for $500 million in 2010. 

In 2011 Blackstone
handed Alta $1 billion to invest. Some of that went into the Duvernay shale in Canada, which they sold to Chevron
in 2013 for roughly $600 million. In 2016 Alta bought more than 200,000 acres in the Marcellus from Anadarko ($1.24 billion) and Mitsui ($200 million). Greenberg was not immediately available for comment.

The deal is one more step in an impressive run for EQT CEO Toby Z. Rice, 38, who with his brothers sold shale gas driller Rice Energy to EQT in a $8 billion deal in 2017. Barely two years later the Rice family teamed with activists D.E. Shaw and Elliott Management to win a proxy battle against EQT old guard, culminating in the ouster of CEO Bob McNally — and appointment of Rice as CEO. In October EQT acquired Chevron’s Appalachian business for $735 million. And in April it bought $70 million worth of mineral interests from India’s Reliance Industries. 

The Alta deal expands EQT beyond its core southwest Marcellus footprint. According to analysts, EQT was on track to produce $600 million in “free cash flow” this year (in the sense of cash left over from operations after capex and interest payments). The Alta operations will help boost EQT’s cash flow to $900 million. EQT carries nearly $5 billion in debt. According to William Janela at Credit Suisse
, a key to the deal’s accretive effect on EQT earnings is Alta’s “significantly lower” operations costs ($.45/mcf Alta vs $1.45/mcf EQT). Analyst David Deckelbaum at Cowen & Company
notes Alta’s “uniquely low” pipeline transport costs.

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