Giant gas, oil find off Israel's coast

Updated: 2012-06-03 21:52


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JERUSALEM - An Israeli oil and gas exploration firm announced Sunday that it had discovered a major oil and gas bed in the Mediterranean Sea off the Haifa coast.

Israel Opportunity said in a statement that its Pelagic fields contain estimated 1.4 billion barrels of oil and 177 billion cubic meters of natural gas, according to the Globes business daily.

"The quantity of gas discovered in the licenses, and the high probabilities, make it the third largest offshore discovery to date," according to company chairman Ronny Halman, who said that the findings were better than initial estimates.

The five contiguous offshore fields - Aditya, Ishai, Lela, Yahav, and Yoad - are located 170 km west of Haifa, and cover 500, 000 acres. They are adjacent to the larger Leviathan (450 billion cubic meters) and Tamar (240 billion cubic meters) fields, which were discovered several years ago.

"This quantity guarantees Israel's energy future for decades, and makes it possible to export Israeli gas, and boost the state's revenues without worrying about gas reserves for domestic consumption," Halman said of the estimated $100-project, due to begin drilling by the end of the year.

Israel's smaller Yam Tethys rig, located off the Ashkelon coast, is fast depleting as it is the country's sole source of natural gas. Israel decided to rely solely on the platform's flagging output, due to over a dozen bombing attacks by saboteurs on the Egypt-Israel pipeline near el-Arish throughout 2011 and into this year.

Israel's Water and Energy Minister Uzi Landau has made switching over from Egyptian gas a linchpin of the country's energy development policy.

Together, the oil and gas finds could, potentially, change the strategic face of the region and turn Israel into an energy exporter.

However, a visiting energy expert told The Jerusalem Post that the country would likely not see a revenue stream before 2020.

"This is a developed economy," said Nick Butler, a former British Petroleum Group vice president of strategy.

"I don't see why Israel could not develop gas grids in major cities to bring it to every business and every home. That is what has worked in most European countries, and there is no physical reason that cannot be done here," Butler said.

Meanwhile, the Israel Navy is preparing to significantly boost the security surrounding the rigs due to growing threats of attack.

The army's high command recently tasked the navy's missile boat flotilla with securing the Tamar, Leviathan and Yam Tethys drilling platforms, the Ha'aretz daily reported.

The plan would deploy the missile boats, which have already held protective training maneuvers in the seas around the rigs, to conduct patrols and secure future drilling platforms.

Israel's defense establishment is increasingly concerned about the dangers posed to the offshore rigs by militant groups or an armed conflict with neighboring states.