April 5, 2012 / 12:46 PM / 5 years ago

Israel must keep gas for 25 years of own use -panel

TEL AVIV, April 5 (Reuters) - Israel should retain enough of its natural gas resources to satisfy its own needs for 25 years and producers can export the surplus, a government panel recommended on Thursday.

Gas production is poised to soar in Israel after the discovery of two of the world's largest offshore reserves in recent years.

The Tamar prospect off Israel's Mediterranean coast holds an estimated 250 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas, while the nearly Leviathan well holds about 450 bcm. Tamar is set to come online in 2013 and Leviathan in 2017.

As the quantity of gas is well above Israel's needs, the finds have raised hopes among exploration firms of a windfall from exports.

A committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late 2011 estimated that Israel needs between 420 and 540 bcm of gas till 2040.

"We have allocated about 400 bcm for the domestic market and we have allowed the excess capacity to be exported," Shaul Zemach, managing director of the Energy and Water Ministry, told a news conference to publish the preliminary findings.

Zemach, who heads the committee, said 400 bcm should be enough for Israel's energy needs for 25 years.

Any liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal that would be built for export purposes would be controlled by the Israeli government, according to the recommendations.

The panel recommended that wells with more than 200 bcm must keep at least 50 percent for the local market, while wells between 100 and 200 bcm need to hold 40 percent for Israeli needs. Small sites of 50-100 bcm only need a minimum of 25 percent. Final recommendations are due in June.

Israel's government aims to become more energy independent following problems with supply of natural gas from Egypt. Militants opposed to deals made by the Mubarak government to sell gas to Israel have blown up the pipeline 13 times since the beginning of 2011.

Israel's electricity provider has been forced to use more expensive alternatives such as fuel oil and diesel as the country's only gas field in operation is projected to run out this year.

A group led by Texas-based Noble Energy is developing the Tamar prospect. Noble holds 36 percent of Tamar. Isramco Negev owns 28.75 percent, Avner Oil Exploration and Delek Drilling hold 15.625 percent each and Dor Gas Exploration has a 4 percent stake.

Delek Drilling and Avner, whose shares were down 3.6 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively in afternoon trade in Tel Aviv, are both part of Delek Group.

The group has already signed a number of deals, including one for $8 billion to supply Israel Electric Corp with gas.

Noble also holds 40 percent of Leviathan, while Delek Drilling and Avner own 22.67 percent.

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