Israeli gas group in talks on pipelines to Turkey, Jordan, Egypt

JERUSALEM Tue Aug 6, 2013 6:38pm IST

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JERUSALEM Aug 6 (Reuters) - A group of energy companies that discovered large amounts of natural gas off Israel's Mediterranean coast said they were in talks to export the gas to Europe via a pipeline to Turkey.

They are also studying options to export gas to Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, Avner Oil & Gas said on Tuesday.

"The partners are negotiating with various officials," Avner, one of the partners in the project, said.

A spokesman for Delek Group, the parent company for Avner and for Delek Drilling, said the group - led by Noble Energy - was already in advanced talks with companies in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority about buying Israeli gas and building pipelines.

The talks show that the gas project is moving ahead, with prospects of eventually boosting Israel's export revenue and economic growth. They also indicate reduced tensions between Israel and Turkey. A pipeline could improve relations between the two countries, which have been poor since 2010.

Recoverable gas in the Levant Basin, which lies largely in Israeli and Cypriot waters in the eastern Mediterranean, hold some 3.5 trillion cubic metres of gas, the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated.

That would meet all of Europe's gas demand for seven years and could mean exports of as much as 2 trillion cubic metres from Cyprus and Israel worth some $800 billion at current European gas prices.

Unresolved territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean regions, including Cyprus and Turkey as well as Israel and Lebanon, mean that it may be difficult to agree on a pipeline route to Turkey.

Analysts say the Israeli government wants an export terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be built in Israel, although most point out that a shared LNG facility in Cyprus may be commercially more attractive.

An export route to Turkey and into Europe could also cut into Russian sales of gas in the region.

ECONOMIC POTENTIAL

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu estimated in June that the government would receive $60 billion in taxes and royalties from the sale of gas over the next two decades.

Deals could be signed soon depending on the outcome of a case before Israel's High Court over the amount of exports allowed, the Delek spokesman said.

Israel's economy is expected to grow 2.8 percent in 2013 but the start of gas production would add another one percentage point. The prospect of huge export revenues has helped to push the shekel to a two-year high versus the dollar.

The cabinet in June approved a plan to limit gas exports to about 40 percent of reserves, with Israel keeping the rest for domestic use.

Some lawmakers seek a higher share for the domestic market, while the Noble-Delek group prefer a larger allotment for exports, which they have said would encourage more exploration.

Two of the world's largest offshore fields found in the past decade lie in Israeli waters. Tamar, with an estimated 280 billion cubic metres, was discovered in 2009, and a year later Leviathan, was found with an estimated 530 bcm.

Tamar started production in March, while Leviathan is slated to come online in 2016 or 2017.

Israel already has a pipeline to Egypt, but it would need to build pipelines to Jordan, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority.

The Delek spokesman said there was also the possibility of exporting LNG to Asia where gas prices are much higher than in Europe, but that this option required a larger upfront investment due to the cost of building LNG terminals.

Should the consortium opt for pipelines, it could mean the end of a deal by Australia's Woodside Petroleum to buy into Leviathan. Woodside, Australia's biggest oil and gas company, last December agreed to buy 30 percent of the Leviathan prospect for $1.25 billion.

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