By: Christopher Helman – Forbes – Dallas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones says he’s been running around “with my pants on fire” the last few weeks negotiating the $2.65 billion sale of Chief Oil & Gas to Chesapeake Energy.
It’s the biggest deal of his career — $2 billion in cash plus $650 million in Chesapeake shares in exchange for Chief’s 113,000 acres producing 835 million cubic feet per day (and $500 million in annual profits) from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.
At 70 years old, Rees-Jones has been mostly out of the spotlight for a decade, since completing an epic run of 7 deals in 7 years for $7 billion, which landed him on the cover of Forbes. “I saved the best for last,” he laughs, in his Texas twang. “I figured I needed to lob a big one out there so people wouldn’t forget me totally.”
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Why make a deal now? “I guess I needed a resurgence in the price of natural gas to bring the value up,” he says. Indeed, the price of natgas has trebled in the past year to $5 per mmBtu amid an international energy crisis that has brought massive shortages to Europe and spurred hot demand for tankers of American LNG.
He’s also been waiting patiently for Chesapeake to get its house in order. Last year the famously overleveraged shale pioneer cofounded by the mercurial Aubrey McClendon (d. 2016) navigated Chapter 11, shedding $7 billion in debt. “It’s a wonder what bankruptcy can do to clean things up,” says Rees-Jones. “They are operating from a clean slate and doing a good job. I’m very much a believer in the future of Chesapeake.” He ought to be, as his 9 million shares will give him 8% of the company. He’s not interested in a board seat, “and I’m not going to commit to never selling a share,” but for now he likes the diversification of Chesapeake’s core positions in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas.
Chesapeake was the natural buyer. Chief’s holdings fit like a glove with Chesapeake’s Marcellus acreage, in part because he bought a chunk of it from the Oklahoma City-based acquirer for $500 million in 2013.
After three decades as a pioneer in drilling and fracking for shale gas, Rees-Jones admits that there’s “some sense of a loss of a part of me” in selling his operating company. “I’m certainly not getting out of oil and gas, just selling out of the direct interests for a passive position that’s easier to manage,” both for him and his two grown sons. He’s been moving in that direction for years — recycling proceeds from past asset sales into a vast collection of mineral holdings and royalty interests across America’s leading oil and gas basins, with particular focus on the Permian basin of west Texas (which he calls “this country’s Saudi Arabia”).
So what does Rees-Jones have planned for his cash pile? “I don’t have any interest in a yacht,” he says, and he’s already got enough ranches and jets. Which is why after paying out partners (including Uncle Sam), he and wife Jan intend to add to the $625 million corpus of the Rees-Jones Foundation. “I’ve had a ton of fun making money,” he says. “But it’s even more fun helping people improve their lives.”
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