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(Image courtesy of Noble)

Noble Corp. unveiled a long-planned spin-off of older rigs into a new company that could file for an IPO as early as next year.

This move comes as Noble is searching for a premium valuation of its best assets.

Shares of Noble, the fourth largest offshore driller by market valuation, rose 3% in after-hours trading to $39 after Tuesday’s announcement.

Noble said the spin off of 44 drilling rigs and other assets from its “high-specification” rigs would take place by the end of 2014.  The separation may be preceded by an initial public offering of up to 20% of the newly formed company’s stock.

“By separating these two businesses, we believe each company will be able to better leverage the overall value of its fleet by focusing on the drivers of its particular business,” Noble Chief Executive David Williams said in a statement.

The continuing Noble company will control the remaining 35 rigs, including rigs currently under construction that include three ultra-deepwater drillships and six high-spec “jackup” rigs.

Noble attempted to sell off its lower-specification rigs last year, but no buyers came forward.

In a similar deal, Transocean sold 38 of its low-specification rigs for just over $1 billion to Dubai-based Shelf Drilling International Holdings Ltd in September, 2012.

CEO Williams, in a letter to Noble employees, said there would be no immediate change to day-to-day operations.

“Ultimately, we expect there to be job creation for some shore-based positions around the world to support offshore operations that are contemplated to be largely unchanged,” he wrote.