JERUSALEM, March 30 (Reuters) - Natural gas from the Tamar field off Israel's Mediterranean shores began flowing on Saturday, the head of one of the partners in the field said in a statement.
Israel, once energy poor, is expected to become a gas exporter by the end of the decade, with the Tamar field holding enough reserves to meet its own gas needs for decades.
Its discovery in 2009 led to an exploration frenzy in the Levant Basin - shared between Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon - and the uncovering of a second bigger find, Leviathan, which prompted Israel to set up a natural gas wealth fund.
"Today (we begin) independence in Israeli natural gas. It is an enormous achievement for the Israeli economy and the start of a new era," said Israeli billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, the controlling shareholder in Delek Group, one of the partners in Tamar.
The gas should lead to a reduction in production costs for state utility Israel Electric Corp as well as a decline in the price of electricity, the Israeli Water and Energy Ministry said last week.
Tamar is located 90 kilometres off Israel's northern coast and has an estimated 10 trillion cubic feet of gas. Development of Tamar and Leviathan will make Israel less dependent on energy imports but the country has said it will also allow a significant amount of its natural gas to be exported.
Tamar has already signed a number of large deals, including one to supply as much as $23 billion of natural gas to Israel Electric Corp and $4 billion worth to units of conglomerate Israel Corp.
Texas-based Noble Energy holds 36 percent of Tamar. Isramco Negev owns 28.75 percent and Delek Group subsidiaries Avner Oil Exploration and Delek Drilling hold 15.625 percent each. Dor Gas Exploration has a 4 percent stake.