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July 14 (Reuters) - Oil and gas producer WPX Energy Inc said it would acquire privately held RKI Exploration & Production LLC for $2.35 billion, the latest in a series of deals brought on by a steep drop in crude prices.
WPX, which will also assume $400 million of RKI's debt, said the deal would give it access to the liquids-rich Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico - the biggest and fastest growing U.S. shale oil field.
The deal comes two months after Noble Energy Inc said it would buy Rosetta Resources Inc for about $2 billion in the first significant shale deal since the oil rout began last summer.
A nearly 50 percent drop in crude prices since highs of over $100 per barrel in June last year has lead to several big-ticket acquisitions, including Royal Dutch Shell's $70 billion deal for BG Group.
The assets WPX is buying produce about 22,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, 69 percent of which is oil and natural gas liquids.
With the acquisition, WPX expects oil to account for nearly a third of its output in 2016 compared with about 20 percent now. The deal is expected to close by the end of the third quarter.
WPX said on Tuesday it planned to increase the rig count in the Permian basin to six from four by the end of the year.
With crude prices steadying at about the $50 mark, several oil producers including EOG Resources Inc, Concho Resources Inc and Devon Energy Corp are putting rigs back to work and boosting production.
The deal excludes RKI's operations in the Powder River basin in Eastern Wyoming, WPX said. RKI will divest or transfer the assets before completion of the deal.
Barclays and Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co were WPX's financial advisers and Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP was its legal adviser. (Reporting by Shubhankar Chakravorty in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Kirti Pandey)