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ConocoPhillips is in advanced talks to buy Burlington Resources, one of the largest independent oil companies in the country, for more than $31 billion in the latest deal in the rapidly consolidating oil and gas industry, according to executives involved in the negotiations.

The acquisition would give ConocoPhillips, the nation's third-largest oil company, control of important natural-gas exploration areas in the United States, where Burlington has been using new drilling technologies in its search for new reserves.

The deal is expected to ignite interest in similar transactions in Houston, which has recently seen a jump in merger activity because of rising oil and natural-gas prices. The higher prices, coupled with difficulty at larger companies in discovering large new petroleum reserves, have encouraged some companies to consider acquisitions as a way of getting access to new areas of production and refining.

A deal with ConocoPhillips would also keep a foreign company from buying Burlington, though it is still possible one could submit a bid in the next several days.

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