PITTSBURGH (AP) – EQT Corp. is merging with Rice Energy Inc. in a deal that combines two of western Pennsylvania’s largest natural gas-drilling firms.

The deal announced Monday will see EQT buy all outstanding shares of Rice common stock for about $6.7 billion and assume $1.5 billion in net debt and preferred equity. The companies say the deal should close in the fourth quarter this year.

EQT’s president and chief executive officer, Steve Schlotterbeck, says the deal “brings together two of the top Marcellus and Utica producers to form a natural gas operating position that will be unmatched in the industry.”

The boards of both companies have OK’d the deal, but shareholders of both companies must still vote on it. The deal also must be approved by government regulators.

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