Seven years after reserves were first discovered there, Israel’s giant Leviathan field is on its way to producing its first natural gas after its partners said Thursday they had approved a $3.75 billion development plan.
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The partners – Texas-based Noble Energy and three Israeli companies – had invested $1 billion in Leviathan to date on exploration, but had been holding off the final investment decision on whether to put the field into production as they sought to ensure customers.
The phase one plan approved Thursday aims to begin pumping by the end of 2019 about 12 billion cubic meters of gas annually, double the volume of gas now being produced by the existing Tamar field.
Leviathan is so big that it will produce more energy than the Israeli domestic market can use, and it will have to export gas, which holds out the promise of turning Israel into a regional energy power, potentially cementing economic and political ties with its neighbors.
“This is a day of good tidings for the economy and people of Israel. This move will provide gas to Israel and promote cooperation with countries in the region,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
However, the markets closest to Israel are too small to consume enough of Leviathan’s output and complicated regional politics have so far prevented any final agreements being signed with Egypt or Turkey. Low global energy prices also acted as a deterrent for developing Leviathan.
Development of the field was also delayed by a wrenching political battle over regulation and the dominance of the Leviathan partners – who also control the Tamar field – over Israel’s domestic energy market.
Shares for the Leviathan partners reacted modestly to the news, although much of the doubt about the go-ahead for Leviathan had been assuaged earlier in the week when two of the Israeli partners – Delek Drilling and Avner – signed an agreement to take a $1.75 billion loan to fund their share of the development costs from the banks HSBC and JPMorgan.
Shares of Delek Drilling closed up 1% at 13 shekels ($3.52) on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, while Avner was ahead 1.7% to 2.43. Both companies, units of the Delek Group, each have a 22.7% stake in the field. Ratio, which holds another 15%, ended 2.8% higher at 2.87.
In New York Stock Exchange trading, Noble, which owns 39.7% and serves as the operating partner, was up 2.5% at $37.60 mid-morning local time.
Noble said its $1.5 billion share of the bill would be paid from operating cash flows from the Tamar field, as well as its other east Mediterranean fields. Regional portfolio proceeds, which include Israel and Cyprus, have received to-date about $575 million, it said.
Noble said it was also securing access to a financing facility for additional funding flexibility.
Phase one development of the field, located about 100 kilometers west of Haifa, calls for drilling four production wells at an average depth of around 5 kilometers below sea level. The gas from Leviathan will be transported through two underwater pipes 120 kilometers long to a processing and production platform about 10 kilometers offshore.
The processed gas will then be piped through a northern entry pipeline connected to Israel’s national gas network.
Noble projects operating cash flow for the first year following Leviathan’s start-up to be at least $650 million net.
The partners are still trying to line up export contracts. They signed a $10 billion pact with Jordan’s National Electric Power Company to supply gas, and are in negotiations to sell gas to Turkey or to Royal Dutch Shell’s liquefied natural gas plant in Egypt.
But with Egypt having discovered even bigger gas reservoirs offshore in the last two years, the key export market for Leviathan is likely to be Turkey. On Thursday, Noble CEO David Stover hinted that a deal with Turkey may be in the offing.
“With 40 trillion cubic feet of gross recoverable resources discovered by Noble Energy in the region, we can continue to grow our eastern Mediterranean business for decades,” Stover said. “This includes additional development beyond phase one at Leviathan."