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DALLAS-The DFW International Airport Board has awarded gas drilling rights for its 18,000 acres to Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., delivering a deal with $181 million of upfront cash and a 25% royalty on gas production from its fields.

The nation’s second-largest independent producer, winning a unanimous nod, was one of three proposals under consideration for the historic pact. The lease, approved at yesterday’s board meeting, now passes to Dallas and Fort Worth city councils for final approvals. The board’s action creates the airport’s third-largest revenue generator, trailing landing fees and parking incomes, if the wells live up to their projected yield.

“Chesapeake has a proven track record of success and brings top-flight industry expertise to this project,” Jeff Fegan, CEO of DFW International Airport, says in a press release. “It’s truly a win-win for the region and our economy.”

Fegan says the deal constitutes “possibly one of the largest single-lease opportunities remaining in the Barnett Shale.” Nearly all 18,000 acres are available for exploration and roughly 9,000 acres open for surface drilling, but it will not impact airfield operations, according to officials.

Drilling activities will require permits from the airport board and FAA approval. The deal is underwritten with Minority and Women-Owned Business guidelines requiring at least 20% of the equity participation to be derived from the specialty pool and more than 39% in subcontracting awards for equipment, construction, engineering, consulting and natural gas marketing.

Since 2004′s opening play in the Barnett Shale, Chesapeake has become the second-largest leaseholder in Tarrant and Johnson counties, the sweet spot of a tier 1 area that is producing the nation’s largest unconventional gas resource play and scores of new millionaires as well as pumping billions into local municipal tills. Chesapeake is operating 15 rigs on its 165,000 acres of leased North Texas land and expects to add 10 more by yearend, according to the company’s website. In South Texas’ Zapata County, Chesapeake has six wells on line and 140,000 acres under lease. Nationwide, the company has 101 rigs in operation, up from 73 in the past year and plans to add 35 before the year ends.

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