Noble rig leaves U.S. Gulf for Brazil

Noble Corp. in January announced plans to move one of its deep-water drilling rigs out of the Gulf of Mexico amid a spill-related slowdown in activity. This week, the Swiss-based driller made good on its promise.

It loaded the Noble Clyde Boudreaux, an ultra-deepwater semisubmersible, on a ship in Pascagoula, Miss., that will carry the rig 5,000 miles to Brazil, where it has a contract with Shell.

That new contract, starting in April, will last for a year and is $290,000 per day, which is less than the previous Gulf lease, Noble said.

Noble, Diamond Offshore and other offshore drilling contractors have recently moved rigs out of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico in response to regulatory delays in issue new drilling permits in the wake of the BP oil spill last year.

Last week, the Interior Department approved the first deep-water drilling permit since a five-month moratorium on the practice was lifted in October. But the oil and gas industry says the process must move faster or more rigs will leave, jobs will be lost and U.S. offshore oil production will decline.

Officials with the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement deny they are stalling and dispute industry claims there is a backlog of permits awaiting approval. They contend the permitting process is necessarily taking longer than it did prior to the deadly BP blowout. Operators must prove they can comply with tougher safety and environmental rules implemented after the disaster, the bureau said.