Despite the moratorium on drilling, Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL) has several major projects under development in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and is still counting on this area to help drive production growth for the company through 2016.

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Gulf of Mexico Overview
Noble Energy is heavily involved in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, with 488,000 net acres leased scattered across 119 blocks. The company has 41 prospects on that acreage, and believes it has a resource potential of two billion barrels oil equivalent (BOE). Noble Energy is involved in four projects, in various stages of development, and is focused on the sub salt Miocene play.

Production from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to grow from 15,000 BOE per day currently to 75,000 BOE per day by 2016 if everything works according to plan.

The Gunflint prospect is Noble Energy's largest discovery to date in the Gulf of Mexico, and is located in Mississippi Canyon Block 948. The first discovery here was in 2008 and the well encountered 550 feet of net oil pay. Noble Energy has put a wide range on possible gross resources here, from 70-500 million BOE, until it can drill additional appraisals wells.

Under a 250 million BOE scenario, Noble Energy is looking for gross production here to reach a peak of approximately 140,000 BOE per day in 2016. This would net the company 35,000 BOE per day. Noble Energy's total investment at Gunflint would be $1 billion for a seven-well program.

Galapagos Prospect
Noble Energy is also involved with the Galapagos Prospect on three other blocks in the Mississippi Canyon area. The company plans to drill three wells and tie them into the Na Kika Platform, which is located nearby.

Na Kika is a permanently stationed floating platform that has been receiving production for years from six fields in the area. The fields and the Na Kika platform are co-owned by BP (NYSE:BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A, RDS.B). Noble Energy is estimating the gross resources here at 130 million BOE, and is looking at initial production in 2011. The company estimates net production to peak as high as 17,000 BOE per day in 2013 and 2014 under the high scenario.

Noble Energy operates the Swordfish development, which consists of three wells currently producing 12,000 BOE net per day. Production has been in decline here for several years, and the company is evaluating the area for further development so it can reverse this trend.

Deep Blue
Another exploration prospect for Noble Energy in the Gulf of Mexico is Deep Blue, located in the Green Canyon area. The company is estimating gross possible resources here of 90-200 million BOE. In early May 2010, Noble Energy reported a successful exploration well here and said that the area has multiple high quality reservoirs. Noble Energy has a 33.75% working interest in Deep Blue and is the operator. The company's partners include BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), Statoil (NYSE:STO) and Murphy Oil (NYSE:MUR)

The Bottom Line
Noble Energy is looking to the deepwater Gulf of Mexico for much of its production growth over the next five years, and hopes to increase production by 400% here through a successful exploration and development program. Whether the deepwater moratorium will impact those plans is the question investors must answer before getting into this name. (For more stock analysis, check out 3 Stocks With Revenue GRowth Greater Than Earnings Growth.)

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