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Noble Pulls Anchor in GOM as U.S. Onshore, Mediterranean Natural Gas Take Priority

Noble Energy Inc., increasingly focused on U.S. onshore prospects and a massive natural gas development offshore Israel, agreed on Thursday to sell its Gulf of Mexico (GOM) portfolio to Fieldwood Energy LLC for $710 million.

“While continuing to deliver outstanding performance and execution across the business, we have strategically repositioned our portfolio over the last couple of years,” CEO David L. Stover said. “The sale of our Gulf of Mexico business represents the last major step in our portfolio transformation.”

Noble is selling stakes in six producing fields and all of its undeveloped leases in the offshore. Net production in 2018 from the GOM portfolio is expected to average slightly more than 20,000 boe/d. Total proved reserves were estimated at 23 million boe.

The Houston-based producer’s focus today is to “rapidly grow our cash flows and margins, primarily the U.S. onshore business and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Stover said.

Noble, long considered a super independent, has whittled its portfolio in the past few years, with its U.S. concentration increasingly weighted to Colorado and Texas, within the Denver-Julesburg (DJ) and Permian basins, and the Eagle Ford Shale.

During the third quarter operating cash flow from the DJ, Permian and Eagle Ford increased more than 40% year/year, with U.S. onshore volumes totaling 219,000 boe/d.

Last year, Noble also sanctioned the initial phase of the mammoth Leviathan natural gas project offshore Israel. First gas there is targeted for the end of 2019.

The “exploration concentration” going forward is on “higher-impact opportunities that can drive substantial long-term value creation,” Stover said.

Noble has sold an estimated $2.8 billion worth of assets since the start of the fourth quarter, according to Mizuho Energy. The GOM was viewed as a “likely candidate” for sale, as production was expected to decline about 20% year/year, averaging 21,000 boe/d in 2018.

Eagle Ford and West Africa properties may be on the chopping block too as Noble directs the bulk of its onshore operating cash to the DJ and the Permian. “Given the extent of deleveraging in recent quarters, we believe complementary Permian acquisitions remain options,” said the Mizuho team.

Under terms of the agreement, Fieldwood initially would pay Noble $480 million and assume all abandonment obligations associated with the properties, which had a book value of $230 million at the end of 2017.

In addition, Fieldwood agreed to make a cumulative contingent payment to Noble of up to $100 million through the end of 2022, determined quarterly at a rate of $2.00/bbl produced when the average Light Louisiana Sweet oil price exceeds $63/bbl.

The sale is expected to be completed by the end of June, contingent upon Fieldwood successfully implementing its contemplated restructuring process.  

Fieldwood, also headquartered in Houston, is a portfolio company of private equity giant Riverstone. The private producer is considered the largest operator on the Outer Continental Shelf, with stakes in about 500 blocks. Fieldwood focuses its efforts mostly in water depths of less than 1,000 feet. It also has some deepwater operations and properties onshore Texas and Louisiana.

Meanwhile, Noble’s board also has authorized a $750 million share repurchase program through 2020. At today’s share price, the program covers about 6% of the company’s outstanding shares, management said.

Noble is hosting a conference call and webcast on Tuesday (Feb. 20) to review fourth quarter and 2017 results.

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