Noble Energy: Permit Process For Gulf Of Mexico Santiago Well Almost Completed

HOUSTON (Dow Jones)–Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) said Thursday it is planning to return to exploratory drilling in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico later this year as it get closer to comply with requirements of the federal government.

Noble Chief Executive Charles Davidson also said in an earnings conference call that the company has resubmitted permits for both the Santiago and Deep Blue wells, which were in progress at the time the government imposed a drilling moratorium in the area following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“I do feel that we are getting close on the permit applications for the wells that … were suspended, especially Santiago, which is our lead permit well,” Davidson said.

But the company is less certain about when it may obtain permits for new wells, because the government is requiring those to have individual environmental assessments, Davidson said.

“That process is still being defined. That will take time … and it’s harder to forecast when they will be in a position to issue those permits,” he added.

Last month, U.S. offshore-drilling regulators said 13 companies that were already drilling when the moratorium was put in place–including Noble Energy–could resume their deep water drilling projects without undergoing additional environmental reviews.

Noble said it expects to submit the permit application for the Gunflint well, also in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, in the “very near future.”

The company’s total 2011 capital program is estimated at $2.7 billion, with investment divided relatively evenly between the U.S. and international operations. Noble expects to spend this year $275 million in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Davidson also said the company expects to receive some compensation for the termination of its production contract in Ecuador.

“We’ve been in discussions with the government and hopefully we’ll resolve it,” he said.

<span style=”color: #888888;”><em>-By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires</em></span>