Noble Energy rolls the dice on Nevada oil

Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:27pm EDT

(Reuters) - Noble Energy said on Thursday it plans to explore for crude oil in areas of Nevada that have seen little drilling, as the U.S. exploration and production company starts to assess its longer-term prospects.

Noble and other oil and gas companies rely on developed reserves to grow output and generate cash flow. Because those reserves hold a finite amount of recoverable oil and gas, companies must always scout out riskier prospects for future growth.

In addition to the 350,000 prospective acres Noble has acquired in the far northeastern corner of Nevada, Noble told analysts on a conference call it plans to drill in waters off the Falkland Islands and it will explore for "deep oil" in the Mediterranean Sea.

"We do not expect all of them to work," Chuck Davidson, Noble's chief executive officer, said. "That is always true with exploration, but with the prospects that we have highlighted today, it would just take one to be successful to have a very meaningful impact on our company."

On Noble's acreage in Nevada there are about seven very old wells drilled. The company, which is in the process of acquiring seismic data, plans to first test the acreage using vertical wells. Depending on those results, Noble may switch to horizontal drilling, Susan Cunningham, head of exploration, told analysts.

First production in Nevada is expected in 2014, but the company has assigned the project a 55 percent chance of succeeding. The acreage may hold up to 1.3 billion barrels oil equivalent, Noble said.

Oil-bearing rock formations in places like the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale are already crowded with drillers, but there are only a handful of small operators in Nevada.

Noble and its partners estimate their prospects off the Falkland Islands may hold up to 12 billion barrels oil equivalent. The Houston company will spend an estimated $180 million to $230 million over three years on the project and sees production of 50,000 barrels per day by 2020.

In the eastern Mediterranean, Noble plans to explore for oil located far beneath its Leviathan gas discovery. Production from the project is not expected until 2018 and it has a 25 percent chance of success, Noble estimates.

Shares of Noble fell 9 cents to $94.02 in midday New York Stock Exchange trading. Since the start of the year, shares are down 0.4 percent, similar to a 0.2 percent decline in the SIG index of oil and gas companies. .EPX

(Reporting By Anna Driver)

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