* Transocean says rig set to move to U.S. Gulf in Dec 2012
* New rig to earn $703,000/day in Black Sea, then $640,000
* Aramco signs 4 jackups for 3 years at half pvs day rate (Adds background, permit approvals, Saudi rig contracts)
By Braden Reddall
SAN FRANCISCO, May 12 Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) plans to move a deepwater rig to the U.S. Gulf of Mexico next year, owner Transocean Ltd RIGN.VX (RIG.N) said, marking a planned addition to the region's fleet after months of departures.
The newly built Deepwater Champion, which will spend the next year and a half in the Black Sea working for Exxon at a record rate of $703,000 per day, is then set to move to the U.S. Gulf in December 2012, according to the Transocean fleet update out on Thursday.
The ultra-deepwater rig is set to earn $640,000 per day for three years once it gets to the Gulf of Mexico to work for Exxon, Transocean added. Both rates were agreed last year, but Exxon had held out the possibility of moving the Champion to Brazil instead.
Seven of the 30-plus deepwater rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico moved away, some temporarily, due to the U.S. deepwater drilling moratorium that followed the BP (BP.L) well blow-out that destroyed a Transocean rig in April 2010. [ID:nN27265554]
Fears of a steady rig exodus may be subsiding now that the U.S. regulator has started issuing deepwater permits for the Gulf, including this week's approval of a plan for five exploratory wells and three previously approved wells to be drilled by Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L). [ID:nN1297651]
Late on Thursday, Chevron Corp (CVX.N) said it received approval for its Buckskin well, which it had planned to start drilling last year. [ID:nN30166184]
Also in Transocean's fleet update on Thursday, the company said Saudi Aramco agreed to contracts for four shallow-water rigs at $73,000 per day, down from their previous $164,000 day rates, for periods running at more than three years each.
Saudi Aramco indicated a few months before that it planned to quickly boost its oil-drilling rig count by 30 percent to give it additional spare production capacity. [ID:nN28213196] (Reporting by Braden Reddall; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Steve Orlofsky)