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Natural gas reserve discovered in Israel

Dec. 30, 2010 10:07 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 31, 2010 4:58 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- A gas field offshore from Israel holds an estimated 450 billion cubic meters of natural gas, positioning the Jewish state as an exporter, Noble Energy said on Wednesday.

The new estimates, announced by the US firm which has a major stake in the field, said the Leviathan gas field dwarfs Israel's next biggest offshore field, Tamar.

"Leviathan is the latest major discovery for Noble Energy and is easily the largest exploration discovery in our history," the firm's chairman Charles Davidson said in a statement.

"This discovery has the potential to position Israel as a natural gas exporting nation," added company president David Stover.

Further tests are required to discover the final estimated capacity of the Leviathan field, which lies offshore near the northern Israeli town of Haifa.

But the capacity announced on Wednesday is encouraging news for Israel, which is hoping natural gas reserves offshore could give Israel energy independence and allow it to export to Europe eventually.

The Tamar field, with an estimated capacity of 178.4 billion cubic meters, is not yet operational.

It has been dogged by international squabbles between Israel and neighboring nations over access, and a domestic brawl over the taxes and royalties the state can levy on the field.

In a statement, the chairman of Israel's Association of Oil and Gas Exploration Industries hailed the news.

"The results of the Leviathan drill are the beginning of the transformation of Israel into an energy power and a gas exporter," he said.

He called on the government to scrap its plans to hike taxes on the Tamar and Leviathan fields, saying they would bring the industry to a grinding halt.

Investors in the project said they were delighted by the announcement.

"The results are great news for the energy market in Israel and of tremendous economic and strategic importance," Gideon Tadmor, the CEO of Israel's Delek Energy, told online news site Ynet.

Yigal Landau, the head of Ratio Oil Exploration, which holds a 15 percent stake in the field, told Israel's The Marker financial magazine that "this is the largest find in the last decade."

Israel's sole operating field, Yam Tethys, which currently supplies about 70 percent of the country's natural gas, will be depleted within three years.

Noble Energy currently holds a 39.66 percent stake in Leviathan, along with Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration, which hold 22.67 percent each, and Ratio Oil Exploration, which holds the remaining 15 percent.
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