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Exxon Mobil doubles its oil and gas holdings in the Permian basin for $5.6 billion

The world's biggest publicly traded energy company is joining the land rush in the prolific Permian Basin.

Exxon Mobil announced Tuesday it will pay $5.6 billion in stock to acquire companies owned by Texas' Bass family that control parts of the Permian in New Mexico. The purchase roughly doubles Exxon's holdings in the basin, adding acreage with an estimated 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

The assets are located in the Delaware Basin, part of the larger Permian.

The deal is the largest oil and gas acquisition in the United States since crude prices crashed in November 2014, according to Houston-based oil and gas research firm PLS. It tops the previous record-setting $4.4 billion purchase of Memorial Resources by Range Resources in May.

"This acquisition strengthens Exxon Mobil's significant presence in the dominant U.S. growth area for onshore oil production," Exxon Chairman and CEO Darren W. Woods said in a statement. "This investment gives us an exceptional Delaware Basin position ... that can generate attractive returns in a low-price environment."

Shares of Exxon were up modestly Tuesday.

The Delaware Basin has lately boasted eye-popping land prices. Deals there made up the bulk of last year's $69 billion in U.S. energy mergers and acquisitions.

Permian acreage is a prized because the basin's geology allows drillers to produce oil at very low prices and profit from the operations even as a severe crude price downturn extends into a third year.

The adjusted per-acre price for Exxon's purchase comes in at about $20,000, "a very good number for New Mexico," said Andrew Dittmar, mergers and acquisitions analyst at PLS.

Exxon will pay the Basses, a prominent Forth Worth energy family, up to $1 billion in cash contingent on the land's production.

The deal marks the second recent purchase of Delaware Basin assets controlled by a storied energy family. In September, EOG Resources bought Yates Petroleum for $2.5 billion. The Yates family's history in American oil stretches back about a century.

EOG paid about $9,000 per acre in that deal, which was also centered on New Mexico's Lea and Eddy counties, PLS data shows.

Exxon's deal also comes just one day after Noble Energy paid $3.2 billion, including debt, to buy Clayton Williams Energy. That acquisition focused on assets in the southern Delaware Basin in Texas, at a price of $33,000 per acre, according to PLS.