Baker Botts and Maclay Murray & Spens drilled for GDF Suez fracking deal

Baker Botts, Travers Smith and Maclay Murray & Spens have acted on GDF Suez’s recent entry into the UK onshore shale gas market.

The French state-backed utility company teamed up with Dart Energy, in a deal that will see it fund drilling for shale gas in the UK’s Bowland basin over the next three years.

GDF Suez will financially back the drilling of up to four shale gas exploration wells, wile Dart will manage the operational side of the project. The deal saw GDF Suez acquire a 25 per cent share in 13 UK onshore petroleum exploration and development licenses for £7.5m. It will also pay £16.7m for ongoing costs.

“GDF has been looking to acquire an interest in upstream gas for a while, and they’ve looked at a number of opportunities across Europe,” said energy partner Hamish McArdle who led on the deal for Baker Botts. “They considered the UK regulatory and tax regime to be less challenging than some others.”

The deal allows the companies to drill conventional shallow coalbed methane wells, as well as deeper and more controversial shale gas wells via fracking.      

The transaction is only the second shale gas deal to take place in the UK, following Centrica’s acquisition of a £160m stake in the Bowland basin from Cuadrilla Resources in June 2012. In that deal, Norton Rose Fulbright advised Centrica while Allen & Overy won its first mandate from Cuadrilla. Energy service provider AJ Lucas, which also sold a Bowland stake to Centrica, hired five-partner London boutique Peachy & Co.

“I’d expect there to be more similar shale gas deals in the coming six to eight months,” said McArdle.

Baker Botts advised longstanding client GDF Suez, led by energy partner Hamish McArdle, with support from partner Tony Higginson and associates Catherine Byers and Alex Marshall.

Travers Smith played a supporting role, advising GDF Suez on environmental and planning work. Environmental and regulatory partner Doug Bryden led, with assistance from real estate partner James Styles, planning associate Romola Parish and environment and regulatory associate James Nierinck.

The firm has recently played similar ancilliary roles on projects work for US firm Wilkie Farr.

Corporate partner Guy De Speville at Maclay Murray & Spens was instructed by Dart, to advise alongside its in-house legal team.