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Noble Energy Inc. (NBL - Analyst Report) announced positive appraisal results from its Gunflint prospect in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The second appraisal well, Mississippi Canyon 992 #1, in the Gunflint block encountered 109 feet of net oil pay within the main reservoir targets.

Noble Energy, one of the major operators in the complex, owns a 31.14% stake while Ecopetrol America Inc. holds 31.50% of working interest. Other companies currently holding minor stakes include Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO - Analyst Report) with 18.23% and Samson Offshore, LLC with 19.13%. The company’s successful appraisal activities at the Carla discovery led to an increase in Noble Energy’s ownership interest in the Gunflint block from the prior 26%.

Efficient drilling, wireline logs and reservoir data have pegged the projected gross resource in the range of 65 to 90 million barrels of oil equivalent in the primary structure. This was in line with Noble Energy’s expectation.

The Mississippi Canyon well was drilled to a total depth of 32,800 feet at a water depth of 6,100 feet. It is situated one mile west of the original discovery well. The net cost of drilling the lower exploration area was $15 million, which will be realized in the second quarter 2013.

With completion of operations, the well will be suspended for future use. Although, the company did not encounter any commercial hydrocarbons in the prospect, the exploration potential is still encouraging. Noble Energy plans to exploit another block, a three-way structure, located to the north, following the development of the current resources.

Besides the Big Bend discovery, the company has two key initiatives in the GoM with first production slated for the latter part of 2015. The Gunflint appraisal will also help promote the company’s development of a subsea tieback project. The approval for the project is expected by end 2013.

Noble Energy's resource portfolio in the GoM continues to act as a catalyst to growth. Further more, the Swordfish block in the GoM came into production after planned maintenance. These operations will certainly help the company maintain its momentum, going forward.

However, the planned shutdown of the Galapagos operation for maintenance for a month might prove disadvantageous for the company. Currently, Noble Energy carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Other oil and gas operators presently looking attractive are Zacks Ranked #2 (Buy) Encana Corp. (ECA - Analyst Report) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC - Analyst Report).

Houston, Texas-based Noble Energy operates internationally and engages in the acquisition, exploration, development, production, and marketing of crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids.

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