THE discovery of the world’s biggest offshore gasfield in 10 years is set to make Israel energy-independent for the first time.
This will boost the Jewish state’s status as the Middle East’s pre-eminent power.
Tests completed yesterday showed that the Leviathan field 129km off Israel’s northern coast could contain 450 billion cubic metres of gas – enough to meet domestic needs for 90 years.
The announcement sent the Tel Aviv stock exchange soaring to a record high, amid claims that the gas could be worth $US95 billion ($93.4bn).
Lack of natural resources has been Israel’s Achilles’ heel as it fought a series of wars with Arab neighbours over the past half century. Now Israel could become an exporter of energy.
Further tests will be required to assess the extent of the gasfield, which stretches across a 325sq km area west of the Israeli town of Haifa.
David Stover, president of Noble Energy, the US company that holds a 40 per cent stake in the project, said the Leviathan field – which lies a short distance from Israel’s disputed maritime border with Lebanon – “has the potential to position Israel as a natural gas-exporting nation”.
Israel has had to import virtually all its oil and much of its gas supplies. The discovery was made by Transocean Sedco Express drilling rig in water depths of 1.6km. It was confirmed yesterday by electrical log tests.
Israel hopes the reserves will give it independence in energy and allow exports to Europe via pipelines. Some could be liquefied and transported abroad in ships.
“Today we received the most important energy news since the country was founded, which will bring us success and significantly impact many fields in Israel,” Uzi Landau, Infrastructure Minister, said. “This is an important day for the Israeli market and economy.”
The new find could raise tensions with Lebanon. Mr Landau said Israel would be prepared to use force to protect its gas reserves. He was responding to the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, who questioned whether offshore oil exploration by Israel was taking place in Lebanese waters.
The Leviathan field dwarfs Israel’s next biggest offshore field, Tamar, which has apotential of 178 billion cubic metres.
The drilling of the Leviathan test well cost at least $US150 million. Others holding stakes in the project include Delek Drilling, a company controlled by Yitzhak Tshuva, one of Israel’s richest men. Besides a string of businesses in Israel, he owns an international property empire including the Plaza hotel in New York.
Avner Oil Exploration and Ratio Oil Exploration also hold minority stakes. Trading in the shares of the companies involved in the project was suspended ahead of the announcement.
Israel has one operating gasfield, Yam Tethys, which supplies about 70 per cent of the country’s natural gas, but will be depleted within three years. It is likely to be at least 2017 before any of the gas discovered at Leviathan is produced commercially.
The discovery comes as the price of gas on the world market has been hit by an abundance of supplies, thanks to new liquefied natural gas terminals coming into use.
Analysts say Israel could find a market in Europe, where countries are looking to cut their dependence on Russian natural gas.