NOBLE Energy, the US oil group, is pulling out of the North Sea, it is understood, as it auctions off its European arm.<br /><br />The sale, which has a price tag of $350m (£210m), follows a series of firms leaving the area as a slump in production and tax increases at the Treasury hit the sector.<br /><br />“It’s not unusual to see large companies selling off their assets, and it leaves room for smaller firms to come into the area,” a spokesperson for UK Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Association said. <br /><br />“As far as tax rates go, we maintain that there is a need, not for reductions necessarily, but a stable regime. The two big recent tax hikes reflect a climate which is not good for business,” she added.<br /><br />Rivals Maersk, which is based in Denmark and Canadian companies Nexen and Talisman, are all thought to be likely bidders. <br /><br />But interest in the assets, which include holdings in 12 fields, and produces 11,000 barrels a day, is likely to be low, as many oil groups seek to restructure their companies, flooding the market.<br /><br />Scotia Waterous, a large oil and gas merger and acquisition company, has been appointed to sell off the branch.<br /><br />The deadline for the bid is 21 October.<br /><br />New chief executive Chuck Davidson is shaking up the company. Earlier this month he said his group had formed a deal with mining giant BHP Billiton, where it swapped a 30 per cent stake in the Gulf of Mexico for a nearby project called Deep Blue.<br /><br />“BHP really brought us an opportunity that was very unique,” Davidson said at the time. <br /><br />“They took a 30 per cent interest in Deep Blue and we took a 30 per cent interest in their Double Mountain prospect,” he added.<br /><br />The exchange allows for more extensive exploration for the two companies.