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Noble Eyes $20B in Shale Plays by 2018

Houston-based Noble Energy plans to spend up to $20 billion during the next five years in the Niobrara and Marcellus shale plays, CFO Ken Fisher told an energy meeting in Houston hosted by Baker Hostetler on Monday night.

The "Shale Symposium" looked at the global challenges and opportunities through presentations by Fisher and George Leis, head of Americas oil/gas for Bain & Company. Leis focused on the global implications of the North American natural gas "supply shock," and Fisher looked at what Noble intends to do in Colorado and Pennsylvania to ride the upside of the shale revolution.

"Unconventional [oil/gas development] is driving significant economic impact," said Fisher, quantifying that impact in the United States as two million jobs and a nearly $300 billion of the U.S. gross national product. "It is also driving our economy in Houston and the Gulf [of Mexico] Coast in terms of the return of petrochemical activity here."

In Colorado, Noble's capital investment between now and the end of 2018 should total $12 billion with production reaching 250,000 b/d by the end of the five-year period, said Fisher, adding that the state's total oil production last year was 135,000 b/d. In the Marcellus, Noble plans to invest $7-8 billion over the same period in both wet and dry gas plays, he said.

"Colorado's oil/gas production is now at its highest level since 1958, and the industry is contributing $1.6 billion to the state coffers, and energy costs are about 23% lower than national averages. We think Colorado has been a progressive and impactful state in terms of its regulatory framework [for the oil/gas industry]."

In response to a question regarding Pennsylvania's Marcellus play, Fisher said Noble is working to reduce the permitting times in the state, which have been averaging a year or more. "We're trying to work with people to help reduce regulatory cycle in terms of permitting -- not so much to make it 'easier,' but rather to make it faster," he said. "It can be well over a year from the time you start until you're producing."

Fisher added that Noble has found in Colorado that the state's new methane emissions standards -- the first in the nation -- are not a significant added cost (per-barrel). "We've found that these are things that can be done without significant cost," he said in response to another question. "As we do development, we're using a so-called 'eco-nose' in which at the well and pad you are only using evacuation and building central processing facilities."

In Colorado, Fisher said Noble has identified seven "integrated development plan areas" spread over its 600,000 acres with the first of the development areas coming on line last October with a central processing facility capable of handling 26,000 b/d, associated other products, and water.

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