Top Australian company buys into Israeli natural gas

Woodside Petroleum will pay up to $2.5 billion for a 30% stake in the Leviathan offshore field

A deep-sea oil-drilling rig (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A deep-sea oil-drilling rig (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Australia’s largest natural gas and oil company, Woodside Petroleum, has taken a 30 percent stake in Israel’s Leviathan off-shore gas drilling operation, it was announced on Monday. Located in the Mediterranean 130 km. west of Haifa, Leviathan is estimated to contain up to 17 trillion cubic feet of usable natural gas, making it one of the largest fields in the world.

Globes reported on Monday that Leviathan will pay up to $2.5 billion for the stake, contradicting earlier reports that the deal was valued at only $1.2 billion. According to the terms of the agreement, Leviathan is valued at some $8.3 billion, according to Globes.

“Leviathan is truly a world-class field that offers significant development opportunities through the growing Israeli domestic gas market and Asian and European export markets,” Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said in a statement, praising Leviathan as “one of the biggest recent gas discoveries worldwide.”

Shares in Leviathan, one of several gas fields off the shore of Israel discovered within the last few years, are now divided between Israel’s Delek Group (which has a majority stake), Noble Energy of Texas, and Ratio Oil Exploration of Israel. Each of those companies will transfer a percentage of their stake to Woodside as part of the deal. The agreement also makes Woodside a strategic partner in the drilling process.

Leviathan’s discovery in 2010 raised political tension between Israel and Lebanon, because it is near the disputed borderline between the countries’ territorial waters. Lebanon later retracted a claim that the field was inside its waters.

Initial production for the Israeli gas market is slated for 2016.

According to the US Geological Survey, the subsea area, or the Levantine Basin, that runs northward from Egypt to Turkey, contains upwards of 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — and reserves in Israeli territorial waters account for some 40% of that total.

Reuters reported on Monday that Woodside’s agreement also allows the company to be involved in future offshore exploration, via two already extant Israeli offshore petroleum licenses. CEO Coleman said that this aspect of the deal was “an exciting opportunity to grow our portfolio in the emerging Eastern Mediterranean basin.”

Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.

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