What Will 2014 Hold For Noble Energy, Inc?

By most measures, Noble Energy, Inc.  (NYSE: NBL  ) , the Houston-based energy exploration and production company, has had a solid year. It delivered another consecutive year of double-digit production growth, led by its operations in Colorado's DJ Basin and Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, and continued its record of exploration success with major discoveries offshore Israel and in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

With 2014 fast approaching, let's take a closer look at what to expect from Noble Energy in the year ahead and beyond.

North American drilling program
Next year, Noble plans to spend the majority of its $4.8 billion capital budget right here in the U.S., with 70% allocated toward the DJ Basin and the Marcellus shale and the remaining 30% earmarked for global deepwater operations, according to a recent company statement.

The largest portion of the company's capital budget will go toward accelerating its operations in the DJ Basin, where Noble has already seen tremendous success. During the third quarter, the company's production from the play increased 31% year-over-year to 97,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, with oil accounting for 70% of this growth.

As a result of a recent acreage swap with Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  ) , Noble now has a more contiguous acreage position of 50,000 acres in the northern and eastern parts of the play. Further, it should realize additional benefits from the transaction, including centralized field facilities, less sand work, and more streamlined operations. The company expects to drill roughly 320 operated horizontal wells in the DJ Basin next year, which should boost production growth by at least 20%.

The next largest portion of the company's budget will be devoted to its drilling program in the Marcellus shale, where Noble plans to drill roughly 170 joint venture wells next year. During the third quarter, Noble's Marcellus production surged 50% from the second quarter of the year as the company brought online several new wells and pads and saw success by drilling longer laterals in the wet gas window of the play. Wells drilled by its partner CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX  ) in the dry gas window have also been delivering solid production rates, thanks in part to the use of shorter spacing between frac stages.

Global deepwater projects
Noble plans to spend the remaining $1.5 billion of its 2014 capital budget on its global deepwater projects. It will continue development of its onshore compression terminal in Israel, which serves the recently sanctioned Tamar gasfield, one of the largest global gas discoveries in recent years. It will also continue its Gulf exploration program, including investments in the development of the Big Bend and Gunflint projects in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the evaluation of the recent Dantzler find.

The company also plans to complete an exploration well in Cameroon and appraise the recent Diega discovery. It will also spend money on new offshore international ventures in Sierra Leone and the Falkland Islands. Overall, however, the company expects its global deepwater sales volumes to rise only slightly over the previous year, with Israel sales volumes expected to grow by 15%, offsetting natural declines from maturing fields in the Gulf of Mexico.

The bottom line
All told, the future looks bright for Noble Energy. The company boasts a large, diversified, and growing global asset portfolio, with several years worth of low-risk inventory in the DJ Basin and the Marcellus, complemented by large positions in the Tamar and Leviathan fields offshore Israel, as well as recent promising finds in Equatorial Guinea and the Gulf of Mexico.

With such a massive global drilling inventory, Noble is well positioned to continue growing production at double-digit rates for several years to come and, in my view, has one of the strongest growth prospects of any midmajor E&P. Next year, the company expects its sales volumes to average between 302 and 322 thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day, which would represent 18% year-over-year growth.

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