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BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company, has agreed to buy US shale gas producer Petrohawk Energy for $12.1bn (£7.5bn) – the group’s largest-ever acquisition. The deal will make BHP the seventh-largest independent upstream oil and gas company in the world.

The deal will mean BHP will become the seventh-largest independent upstream oil and gas company in the world, based on total resources.

The deal follows the purchase of Chesapeake Energy in February, BHP’s first move into US shale gas, a relatively new source of energy that involves extracting natural gas from underground shale formations by horizontal drilling or fracturing the rock using high pressure water.

“One of my predecessors used to say ‘we want to be on every aisle of the energy supermarket’ and this is an unchanged ambition,” Marius Klopper, BHP’s chief executive, said on Friday.

The offer of $38.75 a share for Petrohawk values the company at $15.1bn including debt and is at a 61pc premium to the average share price over the 20 days prior to the bid. The offer values Petrohawk’s current chief executive Floyd C Wilson’s 0.99pc stake at $117m.

“At first glance, we believe BHP has valued this asset for growth,” said Grant Sporre, a mining analyst at Deutsche Bank. “BHP is increasingly confident on the future of gas.”

Some analysts have argued that Petrohawk was undervalued because of capital constraints.

“Petrohawk has an outstanding asset base, but monetary and capital problems has held back its true value,” Jason Gammel, an analyst at Macquarie, said.

BHP is extremely cash generative and has just completed a $10bn share buyback. Some analysts expect the company to have a net cash position when it unveils it full-year numbers next month. These figures are also expected to reveal the biggest-ever annual profit posted by a UK listed company. Current consensus is for pre-tax profits of around £20.7bn.

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