Noble Energy to buy stakes in Falkland Oil licences

US oil and gas producer Noble Energy Inc has agreed to buy stakes in licences from Falkland Oil & Gas Ltd off the disputed islands.

Noble would acquire a 35 per cent stake in Falkland Oil's Northern Area licences, except for Loligo and Nimrod-Garrodia, and would become operator in 2013, according to a statement by London-based Falkland Oil. In the Southern Area licences, Noble would receive a 35 per cent interest, becoming operator by early 2014.

Noble is the second company Falkland Oil had found this year to share the costs and risks of drilling off the archipelago for which Margaret Thatcher fought a war to keep under British control in 1982. The company's investment in the next three years is estimated to total as much as $230 million, Falkland Oil said. Shares of Falkland Oil surged the most since April in London trading.

''We have now brought in two highly respected international exploration and production companies,'' Falkland Oil chief executive Tim Bushell said in the statement. ''With this strong partnership in place, we have the financial and technical resources to help realise the potential from our large acreage position in the Falkland Islands.''

The company started drilling in the Loligo prospect on 3 August, it said in a separate statement today, adding that the operation would take about 60 days.

Edison International SpA, a unit of French state-controlled power company Electricite de France SA, bought a 25 per cent stake in the northern licences followed by a 12.5 per cent stake in the southern licences in June. On 12 July, Premier Oil Plc, a UK explorer with fields in the North Sea and Southeast Asia, said it would buy 60 per cent of Rockhopper Exploration Plc assets. The company was the first to make a commercial discovery in the region.

The agreement would see Noble farm-in to the northern area licences for a 35 per cent interest apart from two excluded areas and would secure total investment over the next three years of around $180 million and $230 million.