Chesapeake to sell shale fields in W.Va., Pa.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. said it will sell oil and natural gas drilling rights to more than 1,500 wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The wells cover 413,000 acres of the southern Marcellus shale formation and the eastern Utica shale formation, the company said Thursday.

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Southwestern Energy Co. will buy the rights for $5.4 billion, making the transaction Chesapeake’s largest divestment.

“Today’s announcement marks a major step in Chesapeake’s transformation and a dramatic improvement in our financial strength as we seek to maximize value for our shareholders,” Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler said in the statement.

Chesapeake had previously sold more than $3 billion worth of gas fields, pipelines, drill rigs and office buildings, undoing major deals brought forth by former CEO Aubrey McClendon, who left in 2013, Bloomberg News reported.

The oil and gas wells in the deal produce the equivalent of 56,000 barrels of crude per day, with 45 percent of it in the form of oil or gas liquids like propane. They are the first shale assets for Southwestern.

Since McClendon was dismissed, Lawler has worked to cut costs and get rid of unprofitable oil and gas fields. Chesapeake in July started expanding into the Rocky Mountains as part of Lawler’s campaign.