Chesapeake plans to sell wells in Wyoming, Colorado

HOUSTON/NEW YORK Thu May 24, 2012 4:48pm EDT

Chesapeake Energy Corporation's 50 acre campus is seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 17, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Sisney

Chesapeake Energy Corporation's 50 acre campus is seen in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on April 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Sisney

HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chesapeake Energy Corp has put a half-million acres in Wyoming and Colorado up for sale, as the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer scrambles to raise cash to close a $9 billion to $10 billion funding shortfall.

Chesapeake, which earlier this month arranged a pricey $4 billion loan from its investment bankers to tide it over, has said it will sell as much as $11.5 billion in assets this year.

The deal for the acreage in the DJ Basin also includes oil and gas production from 29 wells that the company operates and Chesapeake's interest in 24 non-operated wells, the company said in a statement.

Some of the assets are located in the Niobrara shale, an area the company's chief executive, Aubrey McClendon, characterized as disappointing in February.

Investors have been agitating for change at the company, which is under financial stress and dealing with a governance crisis. Earlier this month, Chesapeake's largest shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, urged the company to sell more assets or consider a sale of the entire company.

Analysts and investors have called for change at the company after Reuters reported that McClendon had taken out more than $1 billion in loans using his interest in thousands of company wells as collateral.

McClendon's personal lender, EIG Global Energy Partners, is also a big source a funding for Chesapeake, a situation that may cause conflicts of interest, according to academics and analysts.

In a statement on Thursday, Chesapeake described the DJ Basin acreage as "highly prospective" but no longer essential to its core holdings. Similar sales will take place over the next year or so, it said.

Mark Hanson, an oil and gas analyst at Morningstar, said it makes sense for the company to sell acreage that was not productive, that but it also underscores Chesapeake's need for cash.

Chesapeake, for years one the most active gas drillers, sold off a third of its 800,000 acres to China's CNOOC Ltd for nearly $1.3 billion in 2011.

The joint venture with CNOOC is not affected by the planned DJ Basin asset sale, Chesapeake said.

The company's 2012 funding shortfall comes as natural gas prices are the lowest in a decade.

Chesapeake has already announced that it is looking to sell its 1.5 million acres of lease holdings in the oil-rich Permian basin as well as find a joint venture partner in another liquids-rich region, the Mississippi Lime basin, in order to raise cash.

Chesapeake shares closed up 3.2 percent at $15.58 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bob Burgdorfer and Matthew Lewis)

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