Israel's natural gas.
(photo credit: MINISTRY OF NATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURES)
Citing concerns regarding “regulatory uncertainty” in Israel’s gas sector, Houston-based Noble Energy has relinquished its operational permit in the Ruth C exploration license, Tel Aviv Stock Exchange reports revealed on Thursday.
While the Ruth C license zone – located off the coast of Haifa, east of the larger Tamar basin – has yet to be explored, Noble Energy was authorized to act as the basin’s operator during forthcoming explorations. On Wednesday, however, the company announced “its retirement from the Ruth C license and from the Joint Operating Agreement... in part due to the regulatory uncertainty that exists in Israel and taking into account the risks involved with exploration activities in the license,” according to reports filed on Thursday by license partners the Delek Group.
Noble Energy is a 47.059-percent stakeholder in the 40,000-hectare (98,842-acre) Ruth C license zone, while the Delek Group’s Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration subsidiaries hold 27.835% and 25.106%, respectively.
As a result of Noble Energy’s decision to forgo its role as the operator, Delek Drilling and Avner Oil Exploration have requested that the Petroleum Commissioner extend the Ruth C exploration timetable specified in their work plan, so that an alternative operator for the exploration can be found, the TASE reports added.
The Reut C exploration license was issued from March 1, 2009, through February 28, 2016 – following an extension granted by the Petroleum Commissioner on September 1, 2014. The extension stipulated that prospective drilling targets be filed by August 31, 2015, detailed engineering plans be submitted by September 1, 2015, and the commencement of exploratory well drilling occur by November 1, 2015.
This extension was not taken lightly by activists, however, and on January 20 of this year, the Movement for Quality Government submitted a High Court petition against National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, the petroleum commissioner, and the license holders, demanding the revocation of the exploration license extension.
The court rejected the petition on February 19.
Noble Energy’s decision to leave Ruth C occurs amid an atmosphere of ambivalence and indecision regarding both Noble and Delek’s presence in the country’s large Tamar and Leviathan reservoirs.
The 282-billion-cubic-meter Tamar reservoir, located about 80 km. west of Haifa, began flowing to Israel in March 2013. Yet development of the larger 621-b.cu.m. Leviathan basin, about 130 km. west of Haifa, has been temporarily frozen due to squabbles between the government and the companies.
In February, an interministerial team presented Noble Energy and the Delek Group with a draft solution to the stalemate. Its outline proposed that the Delek Group subsidiaries exit the Tamar reservoir completely and that Noble Energy sell its portion of the basin that would have been directed to the domestic market.
In addition, the document called for the companies to separately market any gas sold from Leviathan to Israeli consumers. The partners would also be required to sell their two smaller reservoirs, Karish and Tanin, as had been originally suggested in the proposed consent decree.
But the week later, Gilo announced that he would postpone his decision regarding the status of the companies for another two months, allowing for closed-door negotiations between the government and the companies to continue.
In response to Noble Energy’s announcement regarding Ruth C, the Energy Ministry said on Thursday afternoon that “the ministry is doing everything in its power to find a solution that will enable the continued development of energy in Israel while providing market certainty, a combination of new players and new investors for the development of the natural gas sector and the encouragement of competition.”