Statoil’s big bet: Aboard the Maersk Developer (photos)

Statoil raised eyebrows when it won the rights to a Gulf of Mexico tract in 2012 by pledging to pay $157 million — an amount more than five times higher than the nearest competitor.

Two years later, the Norwegian oil giant maintains high hopes for the Martin prospect, set in a region busy with oil and gas facilities 43 miles off the coast. It’s now using the Maersk Developer rig to drill a high-stakes exploratory well — at a daily cost of about $1.1 million — in hopes of discovering a big payday. The well is expected to reach nearly 6 miles below the surface of the sea, targeting 24-million-year-old Miocene rock under a ribbon of salt.

The Martin prospect is part of Statoil’s growing U.S. portfolio, which has helped boost the company’s oil and natural gas production tenfold in just a decade, to nearly 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

To read more about how Martin is playing into Statoil’s big plans in the United States, see a story by energy policy reporter Jennifer A. Dlouhy on