Consol Energy (CNX - Get Report) shares eased back in afternoon trading on Tuesday after rising by more than 2% following news that two directors on the board bought stock.

Directors Alvin Carpenter and Bernard Lanigan, Jr. both doubled down on their bets. Carpenter bought 4,000 shares at a price around $16.71, according to Bloomberg. This open market purchase was the first he made in over a year, aside from shares granted as compensation. Meanwhile, Lanigan Jr. made several purchases over the past week, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows. He bought 41,200 shares between Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, marking his first open market stock purchase since he joined the board in 2015.

While the directors' shares purchases boosted the stock early in the trading session, Seaport Global Securities says the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based company could be at the front of the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) line in 2017.

After management indicated that it would like to separate the coal business sooner rather than later, Seaport Global managing director Mark Levin says CONSOL is the "lowest-hanging fruit."

The company could separate the business in three ways: An outright sale; a spin-off; or, additional drop-downs of its undivided interest to CNX Coal Resources LP CNXC.

Levin says if CONSOL goes with the first option, an outright sale, Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP - Get Report) may be the only potential buyer with the means to do so.

"For Alliance Resource Partners, a deal with CONSOL would allow it to control approximately 34% of northern Appalachian (NAPP) production and give its strong coal marketing department access to the east coast export market," Levin wrote in a research note Tuesday. He believes CONSOL's coal business could be worth between $2.1 billion and $2.5 billion.

If Alliance Resource does not make a move to buy the business, the managing director at Seaport Global says a spin would be likely.

"We could see CNX spinning off the exploration and production (E&P) business and leaving CNX to house CNXC's GP and 75% of the PA Mining Complex," Levin said. "That would leave the drop-down story intact."

CNX shares have declined nearly 5% year-to-date.

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