Noble Corp. Sees Splitting in Half to Focus on Deepwater Rigs

Noble Corp., the offshore rig contractor building nine new rigs, said today it plans to spin off about half its fleet into a separate company to focus on its higher-priced rigs working in deeper waters.

The newly created company will own 45 vessels, including 34 shallow-water rigs, Geneva-based Noble said today in a statement. An initial public offering of as much as 20 percent of the new company’s shares may precede a tax-free distribution of the new stock to existing Noble investors, according to the statement.

Companies have been pushing into deeper waters and harsher environments as old oil discoveries play out and new supplies become more difficult to find. The global industry is in the midst of the fattest pipeline of orders for new deep-water rigs since the advent of deep-water drilling in the 1970s, according to IHS Petrodata.

“The purpose of the separation is for Noble to move forward with our development as a robust high-specification and deepwater drilling company through continued execution of newbuilds and fleet enhancements,” Chief Executive Officer David Williams said in the statement.

The spinoff, which has been talked about by the company for about the past couple of years, would be complete by the end of next year. The separation is contingent on Noble receiving a tax ruling from the Internal Revenue Service, which is expected “soon,” according to the statement. Noble will be left with 35 rigs.

Last year’s 52 ultra-deepwater discoveries around the world, in about 7,500 feet of water or greater, made for a record year in the offshore industry, Williams told analysts and investors in a presentation earlier this year.