June 15 (Reuters) - Pipeline operator Williams Companies Inc said on Sunday it agreed to acquire control of Access Midstream Partners LP for $5.99 billion as the first step in merging it with its operations, aiming to enlarge its role in the U.S. natural gas boom.
The deal gives Williams, the fourth-largest U.S. pipeline company based on market capitalization, control over the industry's largest gathering and processing master limited partnership (MLP) as measured by throughput volume.
A subsequent merger of Williams' MLP, Williams Partners LP , with Access, will, if successful, create one of the largest MLPs by enterprise value - close to $100 billion.
Exempt from federal income tax, MLPs have been hugely popular among investors seeking higher yields, even though their structures often have corporate governance standards weaker than those of corporations.
Under the agreement unveiled on Sunday, Williams will acquire the 50 percent stake it does not already own in the controlling entity of Access, referred to as the general partner, from infrastructure fund manager Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).
It will also acquire 55.1 million shares in Access, referred to as units, from GIP, boosting its share of Access units from 23 percent to 50 percent. Williams had previously acquired a 50 percent stake in the Access general partner and 23 percent of the Access units in December 2012.
Williams said it would pay for the latest deal with equity, debt and cash on hand.
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