Israel formally invited bids for 24 new oil-and-gas exploration licenses off its Mediterranean coast on Tuesday, the first in four years.
“We are offering for exploration half of our economic waters in 24 blocks,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said, announcing the offer which closes on April 21, 2017.
“Estimates are that most of the natural gas in Israel’s economic waters is yet to be found,” he said at a press conference, adding that the United States Department of Energy shared that view.
The government hopes the new blocks turn up discoveries comparable to the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields found off its coast in recent years.
Israel hopes the Leviathan field will eventually allow it to become a gas exporter, which could provide it with additional leverage in the turbulent Middle East.
The Energy Ministry said that a survey commissioned from French consulting company Beicip Franlab indicated a potential from new sites of around 6.6 billion barrels of oil and 2.137 billion cubic meters of gas.
Israel’s Tamar field, discovered in 2009 and which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic meters (8.4 trillion cubic feet).
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.
Licenses for both are held by a US-led consortium in an arrangement that was initially opposed by Israeli antitrust authorities and struck down by the Supreme Court.
It was eventually approved only after the terms were revised and the consortium’s lead partner, US firm Noble Energy, agreed to reduce its 36 percent holding in Tamar to 25 percent so it was no longer the largest shareholder.
Noble’s Israeli partner Delek pledged to sell its 31 percent Tamar holding.
Tuesday’s offering is the first to be made through open competitive bidding, and Steinitz said it was designed in consultation with anti-trust authorities and according to “best international practice.”
The Noble-Delek consortium is ineligible to tender, along with licencees of other smaller existing fields “with estimated reserves exceeding 200 billion cubic meters,” an Energy Ministry statement said.
Applicants must pay a $50,000 fee and post a $70,000 bid bond as well as have proven assets of at least $400 million and equity capital of $100 million.
Other conditions are set out in a dedicated website, www.energy-sea.gov.il.