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U.S. company Noble Energy announced on Sunday that natural gas has definitely been discovered at the Dalit-1 site 60 kilometers west of Hadera. The scope and financial ramifications of the discovery have yet to be determined.

Only three weeks after drilling started at the Dalit-1 test well, preliminary signs showed quantities of natural gas in the sandy layers of the seabed.

The discovery of gas happened at a very early stage in the drilling, well before expected, and led to rumors over the weekend that once again the drilling partners have found much more gas than forecast, as at the Tamar-1 site.

Drilling at Dalit-1 started March 6, and was scheduled to last two months. Therefore, clear signs of natural gas after only two weeks may signal that the seabed at the site contains a large quantity of gas even in the layers well above those targeted by the exploratory well.

Nevertheless, before there is too much excitement, no gas was found in some of the target layers, and it is far too early to say anything about the quality of the find.

The first stage of the drilling ended at the end of last week, and Noble Energy, which is conducting the exploratory drilling, will now start poring over the results from the drilling to examine the physical characteristics of the rock and the amounts of gas available. These results may be available Sunday.

The partners in the exploratory site are Noble, 36%; Isramco, 28.75%; Avner Oil Exploration, 15.625%; Delek Drilling, 15.625%; and Dor Gas Exploration, 4%.

After receiving the initial results, the partners in the site will have to decide whether to conduct further tests of the potential gas reservoir to see if the amount of gas available is worth exploiting, as well as at what rate it could be produced.

This time, as opposed to the Tamar-1 discovery, the drilling consortium has avoided making any announcements to the stock market. This is based on Noble's policy of not releasing any information before a determination is made whether the site is commercially viable.

The early discovery of the gas could cut the exploration costs significantly, as the floating drilling rig, named the Atwood Hunter, costs about $500,000 a day. The rig could then return to the Tamar site for further examination of the quantities in that gas field.

The well was planned to be 3,800 meters deep, at a total cost of $50 million.

The preliminary indications show a higher probability of gas at Dalit than Tamar, 40% to 35%, but the potential amount available seems to be much smaller, in the 20 billion cubic meters range compared to 142 bcm for Tamar. On the other hand the Tamar site is farther out and farther north, some 90 kilometers off the Haifa coast - and will be much more expensive to drill and exploit. The Tamar deposit is also deeper.

The real difference in the end may simply be the ability to produce gas at Dalit much earlier than from Tamar, in only three or four years.