Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL) has a history of successful oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean area, with several high-profile discoveries reported in offshore Israel. While most of the resources discovered in this area have been natural gas, the company is currently targeting a prospective oil zone in this area.

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Eastern Mediterranean Success
Noble Energy has reported six consecutive discoveries of natural gas resources in various fields in offshore Israel and Cyprus. These discoveries hold an estimated 35 Tcf of gross resources, or 12 Tcf net to Noble Energy.

The Tamar discovery was made in early 2009 and holds gross resources between 4.1 and 4.9 Tcf. The project is operated and 36% owned by Noble Energy and is currently under development, with first sales expected in 2012.

Another major find for Noble Energy was reported in late 2010 at the Leviathan prospect. The company holds a 40% ownership at this field and estimates that Leviathan has 17 Tcf of gross resources.

Noble Energy plans to drill further wells at Leviathan to delineate the extent of the natural gas resources here. The company is looking to start up production in 2016, with an estimated production range from 300 million to 500 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

SEE: Oil And Gas Industry Primer

Deeper Oil Zone
Noble Energy will also drill an exploration well in late 2013 at Leviathan to test a deeper oil zone at the field. The well is targeting a Mesozoic oil zone at depths of more than 21,350 feet and the company estimates that this prospect has gross mean unrisked resource potential of 1.35 billion BOE. This exploration well carries high risk for Noble Energy, with only a 25% chance of geological success.

Noble Energy has leased the Atwood Advantage, a newly constructed ultra deepwater drill ship, to conduct this exploratory well at Leviathan. The drill ship is being built by Atwood Oceanics (NYSE:ATW) and is capable of drilling in water depths up to 12,000 feet.

If the Leviathan deep oil exploration well is successful, Noble Energy expects to develop the field with a floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) unit, with first production in 2018. The company estimates a net production rate of 50,000 barrels of oil per day and full cycle finding and development costs of $11 per BOE.

SEE: A Guide To Investing In Oil Markets

Other Operators
Other exploration and production companies active in the Eastern Mediterranean include Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA), which has extensive operations in Egypt. The company reported average production of 158,752 BOE per day from its Egyptian operations in the second quarter of 2012.

Strong Interest
The industry has shown an interest in exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), Eni (NYSE:E) and more than a dozen other oil and gas companies making bids for exploration rights in offshore Cyprus. The government of Cyprus expects to narrow down the list of bidders and begin negotiations shortly.

The Bottom Line
Noble Energy has a backlog of large discoveries of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean to develop over the next decade and is now seeking to repeat this success with a deep oil zone at the Leviathan prospect. The company's strong track record of exploration discoveries should give investors confidence that the company will succeed with oil as well.

At the time of writing, Eric Fox did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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