By Avi Bar-Eli
“We have two causes for celebration,” Yaakov Mimran, Petroleum and Mining Commissioner in the National Infrastructure Ministry, said to TheMarker over the weekend. He was referring, of course, to Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. firm Noble Energy, which together with its Israeli partners has been carrying out exploratory drilling at three sites off the Haifa coast. Noble raised its reserve estimate at the Tamar field by 15%, to 238 billion cubic meters, and also announced it would start natural gas exploration at the Leviathan offshore prospect off Israel’s coast in the fourth quarter of this year. The latter announcement came in the wake of estimates of 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the prospect.

“The most up-to-date quantity of the gas at Tamar has a chance of success not of 50%, but of 100%, so an addition of 10 billion cubic meters is a celebration,” Mimran explained. “With Leviathan, it’s not just a 50% likelihood but a likelihood that became high, thanks to its particular geologic location and its proximity to Tamar, which contributed to these increased odds. I hope that in the fourth quarter we will have proven results from the drilling at Leviathan,” Mimran said.

What can be said about Noble’s forecast regarding the other areas surrounding these structures, which amount to an additional 850 billion cubic meters (30 trillion cu. meters )?

“Let me refer to an article published by the U.S. Geological Survey indicating a potential of 112 tcf [of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas] in the Mediterranean Basin region and based on work by the Infrastructure Ministry and Geophysical Institute of Israel. Noble’s survey covered additional areas and found additional structures, that are smaller and less bombastic but nonetheless attractive.”

From the reports of the partners it’s evident that most of the gas is destined for export.

“That possibility is being considered, and the ministry is also aware of this option. We considered it in the past and will update our evaluation in light of the new estimated. You cannot muzzle a threshing bull, that is to tell the firms to look for gas and petroleum and then force them to sell it on the local market despite its being saturated.”

Is the possibility of earmarking part of future production for the country’s strategic reserves being examined?

“Absolutely. We’re deep inside this issue. The gas is the state’s, and I am supposed to authorize all actions involving these resources. Under no circumstances will there be independent drilling partnerships, since the gas is state property. The right to produce the gas does not negate our involvement in the process.

“The state is always thinking about the future, and sometimes we don’t sleep at night. We have talked with Noble Energy about a few of the strategic issues. I can’t give details, but I must point out that Noble sees eye-to-eye with us regarding certain state interests and is fully aware of the needs of the state. I was in Houston, I met with the teams working on Tamar and you feel their awareness and their good feelings toward Israel. Give us two more companies like Noble and there’ll be a real celebration here.”

But most of the offshore areas with potential are already held by exploration companies.

“One can’t make such a sweeping statement. Iit all depends on the geologic formation and there is potential also in areas below the ocean floor, which are not within the province of Tamar and Leviathan. There are still additional open areas and the potential for issuing additional licenses.”

Are the forecasts about pumping oil from deeper levels realistic?

“That direction is high-risk, but logical. With today’s technology it’s possible to drill to a depth of six to seven kilometers and to extract oil, irrespective of gas production.

Have you already received responses from international institutions or companies since Noble’s announcements?

“The world is joyous. It must be remembered that the Tamar discovery was the world’s largest in the past three years.”