* Capital spending up 23 pct from 2013
* Company to spend 70 pct of budget on U.S. onshore operations
* Raises current-quarter sales volume estimate
Dec 17 (Reuters) - Noble Energy Inc said it expected capital spending to rise 23 percent to $4.8 billion in 2014, with 70 percent allocated to its onshore operations in the United States.
Oil and gas producers are stepping up spending on drilling in North America's shale fields, which are seen as less risky and give higher returns.
Noble Energy said a majority of its 2014 spending would be on operations in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg Basin, where sales volumes are expected to rise 28 percent next year.
The company will also focus on the wet gas area of the Marcellus shale field in southwest Pennsylvania and northwest West Virginia. Sales volumes at the field are expected to nearly double next year.
Noble Energy also raised its fourth-quarter production estimate, citing higher-than-expected sales from its U.S. onshore operations, West Africa and Israel.
The company increased its current-quarter sales volume estimate to 286,000-288,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) from 280,000-285,000 boe/d.
Noble Energy cut its current-quarter exploration expense forecast to $200 million-$225 million from $225 million-$265 million, citing successful drilling in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and eastern Mediterranean.
Global deepwater programs are expected to account for 30 percent of the company's capital investment next year.
Total sales volumes from continuing operations are forecast to average 302,000-322,000 boe/d in 2014, a rise of roughly 18 percent from this year's target.
Liquids are expected to make up 46 percent of the volumes.
Noble Energy had budgeted $3.90 billion for 2013, of which it spent about $3.24 billion in the nine months ended Sept. 30.
The company's shares were little changed at $69.34 in early trading on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock had risen nearly 20 percent in the six months to Monday's close.