UPDATE 2-Falkland oil explorers contract rig for 2015 drilling
(Adds statement from Ocean Rig UDW)
LONDON, June 4 (Reuters) - Energy companies active in the Falkland Islands have leased a rig for their 2015 drilling programme, paving the way for oil and gas exploration to continue next year in the region contested by Britain and Argentina.
London-listed Premier Oil said it had contracted the rig to drill a minimum of four wells in the North Falkland Basin with partner Rockhopper.
Cyprus-based Ocean Rig UDW said it had signed a leasing contract for its Eirik Raude drilling rig to be deployed in waters off the Falklands for around 260 days.
Premier Oil is sharing the rig with Noble Energy, which will deploy the equipment to drill another two wells elsewhere in the South Atlantic archipelago.
Tensions between Britain and Argentina remain high over the sovereignty of the Falklands, over which the two countries went to war in 1982, as Buenos Aires attempts to block London-listed firms from drilling for oil and gas in the area.
Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd also said it was participating in the 2015 drilling programme with Premier Oil and Noble Energy.
The rig, which is expected to arrive in the Falklands between February and May next year, will first drill at the Premier Oil-operated Zebedee and Isobel/Elaine prospects in the North Falkland Basin.
Noble Energy obtained the third and fourth drilling slots through a rig-sharing agreement with Premier Oil before the equipment is expected to return to the North Falklands to drill another two wells.
These are likely to be the Jayne East and Chatham/Sea Lion West Flank wells, Rockhopper said.
Premier Oil has been searching for a partner for its Sea Lion project, a field that is expected to start producing oil in late 2018 and will require an estimated $5.2 billion in investment.
Premier Oil also said on Wednesday it had discovered more gas at its Tuna Block in offshore Indonesia, increasing the site's gross resource estimate to 100 million barrels of oil equivalent.
Premier Oil shares were trading down 0.9 percent at 1431 GMT, while Falkland Oil and Gas shares had gained 2.9 percent and Rockhopper shares 0.3 percent by the same time. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo; Editing by Jane Baird and Dale Hudson)