TEL AVIV, Israel (Reuters) -- Israel, once energy poor, is expected to become a gas exporter by the end of the decade and the companies developing its huge offshore Leviathan find are about to pick a fourth partner to gain the crucial know-how.
A number of foreign firms have been in a bidding war for the fourth stake in the Leviathan field, where an estimated 17 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas made it the world's largest offshore discovery of the past decade when it was found in 2010.
"A decision will be made by the end of the year," said Yigal Landau, CEO of Ratio Oil Exploration, which is a partner in the US-Israeli consortium developing the field.
"More important is the knowledge and expertise the company brings, especially to the 'midstream'," Landau told Reuters, referring to the construction of an underwater pipeline and a liquefied natural gas terminal.
"Long term, that will pay off more than if some other candidate comes and says they are willing to value Leviathan at an additional billion dollars in the short term," he said.
Until now the consortium has revealed little about the decision making process.
In a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange last month, the Leviathan partners said Australia's Woodside Petroleum had submitted a bid to purchase a stake of up to 30 percent. Israeli financial newspaper Globes listed Russia's Gazprom as another leading contender.
Experts have valued Leviathan at between $5 and $7.5 billion at this stage. Texas-based Noble Energy has a 39.66 percent share of the field. Israel's Delek Group, through two subsidiaries, holds 45.34 percent and Ratio has the remaining 15 percent.
Leviathan, where production is expected to begin for the domestic market in 2016 and around 2018 for export, will be connected both to Israel and Cyprus, Ratio's Landau said.
Nearby Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, with its own newly found gas, is likely to provide the liquefaction facilities Israel could use to reach export markets by ship. Some analysts say future possibilities also include a Red Sea terminal so it can target Asian markets.