* Service cos. see higher Gulf activity in 2012
* First oil seen next year
* Discovery high-quality-exec
HOUSTON, Dec 1 Anadarko Petroleum Corp has made a natural gas discovery at its Cheyenne East prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, an executive told investors on Thursday.
The first well Anadarko drilled since the U.S. government's moratorium was lifted was a discovery with "50 foot of high-quality gas pay," Chuck Meloy, Anadarko's senior vice president of worldwide operations, told the Jefferies energy conference.
First production is expected next year, Meloy said.
Announcement of Anadarko's discovery comes as there is growing optimism from companies about a return to more normal levels of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following BP Plc's 2010 oil spill disaster that halted deepwater operations for nine months.
Superior Energy Services Inc CEO David Dunlap said he expects Gulf of Mexico drilling to return, before the end of next year, to levels about two-thirds of those prior to the Macondo well blow-out.
"The international arena and the Gulf of Mexico are really poised to give us some upside if it comes to fruition," Pete Miller, chief executive officer of oilfield services firm told investors.
The process of obtaining permits to drill is still very slow, oil executives at the Jefferies conference cautioned, but progress is being made.
Shares of Anadarko fell nearly 1 percent to $80.68 in midday New York Stock Exchange trading, in line with a 1 percent drop in the CBOE index of oil .