Oil & Gas in Israel - Exploration History

Petroleum and its products supply some 60% of Israel’s energy consumption. Approximately 300,000 barrels of oil are consumed daily, all of which is imported from overseas with only negligible amount produced locally. To reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil and strengthen its economy the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources promotes oil and natural gas exploration onshore and offshore Israel.
 
Until recent years exploration efforts did not result in great success.  Unlike other nations in our region that are amongst the richest petroleum provinces in the world, Israel was considered poor in hydrocarbon resources. However, in the last decade several dramatic changes took place, which had transformed the status of the country as an energy producer and profoundly affected its entire economy.​
 

The Early Years

​Exploration efforts for oil and gas started in the area of Israel as early as the first half of the 20th century and continued throughout the time of the British Mandate over Palestine with no significant success. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Petroleum Law (1952) was enacted and several petroleum exploration companies were founded, as well as governmental institutions, which provided technical and professional support, such as the Geophysical Institute and the Geological Survey of Israel.
 
The first well, Mazal-1, was drilled in the Dead Sea area in 1953.  In 1955, the first oil was discovered in the Heletz field at the southern coastal plain area and in 1957, more oil was found in the adjacent Brur and Kokhav areas.  This early success promoted further exploration activity and since the early 1950’s to the late 1990’s some 450 exploration wells were drilled in Israel in land and offshore, the majority of which did not result in commercial success.
 
The Helez-Brur-Kokhav is the only oil field that was fully developed and it produced, since the early 1950’s 18 MMBL of light oil.  Several small gas fields were also discovered and developed in the Zohar area in the southern Judean Desert and small quantities of oil were produced in the Zuk Tamrur area west of the Dead Sea.  

 

The Offshore Success

Several offshore wells were drilled in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1970’s to 1990’s in relatively shallow water, 10 to 20 km of the Israeli coast.  No commercial success was reached although significant, light oil shows were discovered in the Yam-2, and Yam-yaffo-1 wells. In June 1999, the Tethys Sea Partnership announced the discovery of gas in Noa-1, drilled 40 km west of the coastal town of Ashkelon. The Noa field was the first, large natural gas reservoir found offshore Israel.  In February 2000, another gas bearing reservoir was found in the Mari-B field, southeast of the Noa field, which at the time of discovery contained an estimated amount of 45 BCM of gas in place. In 2004, commercial gas production began at the Mari-B field.  Almost all the amount of this gas was used by the Israel Electric Company to operate some of its power plants, which were converted from fuel oil to natural gas utilization.
 
Following Noa and Mari-B discoveries in the southeastern part of the Israeli Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), exploration efforts began to accelerate. These efforts included acquisition of new 2D and 3D seismic data throughout the offshore. In January 2009 the Noble Energy Partnership, Avner, Delek Drillings, Isramco and Dor announced the discovery of thick section of gas bearing sands in the Tamar-1 well, located in 1600 m water depth, 90 km west of Haifa in the northern part of the EEZ The Tamar structure was estimated to contain at the time of discovery some 240 BCM of recoverable gas reserves, an amount sufficient for Israel’s domestic consumption of gas for several decades.  Later this year the same partnership discovered natural gas in the smaller Dalit field, southeast of Tamar, with an estimated amount of 8 BCM of gas.
 
In June 2010 a partnership headed by Noble Energy, Delek Drillings and Ratio announced the largest discovery made so far in the Israeli economic water.  The giant, Leviathan structure located in deep water, 30 km west of Tamar, was found to contain the same gas bearing Tamar Sands.  Initial studies indicated to recoverable reserves of 450 BCM of gas in the Leviathan field. Exploration activity continued through 2011 to 2013 with good results.  More gas fields were discovered in the Karish, Tanin, Dolphin, Tamar SW, Aphrodita-Ishai and Shimshon structures.   

 

 

The Israeli Gas Revolution

​At present the total amount of recoverable gas reserves found offshore Israel is estimated at 900 BCM.  These new finds allow Israel to become a nation capable of providing for a substantial portion of its energy consumption without dependence on external sources.  In 2013 the Tamar gas field was connected to shore via a 150 km long tie-back pipe, amongst the longest in the world, and gas started to flow to the Tamar production platform and from there to the Israeli gas transportation system. 

With the support and encouragement of the government and the Ministry of Energy, electric power plants and large industrial facilities are gradually converting their energy consumption to natural gas.  The establishment of a nation-wide transmission and distribution system is underway. This system is designed to provide natural gas to every factory in Israel, and subsequently will reach the private sector as well.