06/04/2010 06:17

Delek: “We may be able to supply Europe, E. Asia.”

The Leviathan natural-gas site off the Haifa shore could be twice the size of the Tamar prospect, the largest gas discovery globally in 2009, and position Israel as a gas exporter in coming years, US oil operator Noble Energy Inc. said Thursday.

“Today is a day of celebration for all of us. The State of Israel is an energy independent country,” Yitzhak Tshuva, controlling shareholder of Delek Group, said Thursday. Delek is a partner in the Leviathan natural-gas find through its subsidiaries Avner Oil and Gas LP and Delek Drilling LP, who each own 22.67 percent.

“The preliminary results of the 3-D seismic survey of the Leviathan structure published by Noble Energy Inc. are exceeding all of our expectations,” he said. “The results will strengthen the country’s economy. In these difficult times, Israel needs more than ever support and geopolitical power opposite other countries in the world.”

In addition to the gas potential at the Leviathan site, the results of a seismic survey had indicated signs of oil at greater depth, Tshuva said..

Noble Energy, which owns 39.66% of the Amit and Rachel licenses forming the Leviathan gas find, announced Thursday the site would be its next exploration target in the region. Based on the seismic survey, Noble Energy said the Leviathan prospect might hold 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, with a 50% chance of geological success.

“The option for exporting natural gas has become much more realistic,” Delek Group CEO Asaf Bartfeld said Thursday. “We may be able to supply the European market and the Far East, where demand is highest. Though, of course, at this point, we are waiting to drill and to try and confirm the gas.”

Referring to initial interpretation of 2-D and 3-D seismic data, Noble Energy has estimated resource potential on its eastern Mediterranean sites to be in excess of 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“In March, when I was last in Israel, I said that Noble Energy planned to be here for decades to come,” Noble Energy chairman and CEO Charles Davidson said Thursday. “I am thrilled that today’s announcement substantiates the potential of a new and significant energy basin in the eastern Mediterranean, which, if successful, could position Israel as a potential energy exporter in future years.

“I would like to congratulate the State of Israel on the discoveries of the last year and a half, which have the potential to strengthen the economy and security of Israel. Noble is honored to be working with our Israeli partners in this historic development.”

In January 2009, the discovery of the natural-gas field 90 kilometers offshore from Haifa, known as Tamar, in which Noble Energy has a 36% working interest, was made by the US-Israel consortium including the Delek Group, through its subsidiaries Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration, Isramco Negev 2, Dor Gas Exploration. Tamar is the largest exploration discovery in Noble Energy’s history, which last year also discovered a natural-gas field at Dalit with gas reserves estimated at 500 billion cubic feet.

“The Leviathan exploration has the potential of being twice the size of Tamar, which was the largest gas discovery globally in 2009,” Richard Gussow, a research analyst at Deutsche Bank, said Thursday.

In addition, Noble Energy confirmed Thursday that the Tamar project remains on schedule for sanction in 2010 and first gas production sales in 2012. Noble Energy on Wednesday increased its expectations for gross recoverable gas resources at Tamar by 33% to 8.4 trillion cubic feet as a result of updated reservoir studies.

“This year we have undertaken significant capital projects to help maintain a high Mari-B deliverability through 2012, and we are working hard to enable Tamar first gas sales late in that same year,” Davidson said.

Noble Energy’s discoveries could provide about 35 years of Israel’s natural-gas needs at projected 2012 demand rates. The capital investment for Tamar is estimated at $2.8 billion.

“With the Tamar project expected to supply Israel with its natural-gas needs for the next three decades, a discovery at Leviathan, should there be one, would be earmarked for export,” Gussow said. “This would likely be through LNG [liquefied natural gas], a long-term process that we believe would take at least six years and would require heavy investment.

“Delek has spoken of Asia as a target market due to the current high prices there, and we believe that the Atlantic market would also be targeted due to Europe’s desire to reduce reliance on Russian gas.”