April 18 Noble Corp, owner of the world's
third-largest offshore drilling fleet, said on Thursday Royal
Dutch Shell Plc was in talks to extend its contract to
use the Noble Discoverer beyond February 2014, underlining its
long-term plans for the offshore Arctic.
The Discoverer is undergoing repairs in South Korea after
Shell postponed its 2013 drilling plans for offshore Alaska
after a problematic foray there last year.
But Roger Hunt, Noble's senior vice-president for marketing
and contracts, said recent moves to push ahead with drilling in
the Russian Arctic by Exxon Mobil Corp and Rosneft
underlined the potential of the overall region.
Hunt did not see the decision last week by ConocoPhillips
to defer its drilling off the coast of Alaska as
indicative of the industry losing interest.
"I wouldn't read that as a fundamental shift away from the
Arctic," Hunt said on a conference call.
Yet efforts to drill off Alaska are now under intense
scrutiny. A total of four government investigations were
launched into Shell's 2012 drilling season off Alaska, which
culminated in the grounding of its Kulluk drillship in a storm
as it headed down to Seattle for the winter.
Noble also said on Thursday it had secured contracts for the
final two of its ultra-deepwater drillships under construction,
adding $1.3 billion to its backlog.
The two rigs, both expected to be delivered next year, will
work in the Gulf of Mexico for Plains Exploration & Production
Co - which is being bought by Freeport-McMoRan Copper &
Plains had previously bought $5.5 billion worth of Gulf of
Mexico assets from BP Plc last year.
Prior to the Plains contracts, Noble reported on Wednesday
an end-March backlog of $14 billion, down from $14.3 billion
three months before, along with higher-than-expected
Looking ahead to the second quarter, Noble expected a rise
in contract drilling costs to between $515 million and $530
million, up from $484 million in the first quarter. The costs
would rise between $15 million and $20 million per quarter after
that, the company added.
But the effective tax rate for 2013 was now expected to be
between 18 percent to 20 percent, down from the range of 20
percent to 21 percent given three months ago.