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 of oil 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.

Up till the late 1990's exploration efforts did not result with great success. Unlike other nations in our region that are amongst the richest petroleum producers in the world, Israel was considered poor in hydrocarbon resources. However, in the last two decades large amounts of gas has been discovered offshore that profoundly affected Israel's economy.

 

The Early Years

Exploration efforts for oil and gas started in the area of Israel as early as in the 1920's 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 including the Geophysical Institute and the Geological Survey of Israel.

The first well, Mazal-1 that was drilled in the Southern Dead Sea area in 1953 was a dry hole. However, only two years later in 1955, the first oil was discovered in the Heletz field at the southern coastal plain; 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 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 shallow water, 10 to 20 km west 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, significant natural gas reservoir found offshore Israel. In February 2000, another gas reservoir, the Mari-B field, was found southeast of the Noa field. At the time of discovery Mari-B contained 45 BCM of gas in place. In 2004, commercial gas production began from the Mari-B field through a production platform that was built 25 km west of Ashkelon and a gas receiving terminal near the port of Ashdod.  Almost all the gas produced from the field was used by the Israel Electric Company to operate some of its power units, which were converted from diesel and coal 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. In the early 2000's new, regional 2D and 3D seismic data was acquired throughout the offshore. Exploration licenses were granted to several oil companies including Noble Energy, Avner and Delek Drilling the Tethys Sea partners that discovered Noa and Marie-B. In January 2009 Noble Energy and its partners announced the discovery 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 that can provide 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 Oil and Gas 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 analysis indicated to recoverable reserves of 450 BCM of gas in the Leviathan field, which was later increased to 500 BCM following the drilling of several appraisal wells. The giant Leviathan Field was the largest discovery world-wide during the first decade of the century. Exploration activity in the northern part of the Israeli EEZ continued through 2011 to 2013 with more success. Additional amounts of gas were discovered in the Karish, Tanin, Dolphin, Tamar SW and Aphrodita-Ishai fields.  

 
 
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The Israeli Gas Revolution

​At present the total amount of recoverable gas reserves found offshore Israel is estimated at about 900 BCM. These amount allows Israel to provide a substantial part of its energy consumption. The first field to be connected to the shore was Mari-B, through the Mari-B production platform and the Ashdod Onshore Terminal (AOT), in 2004. The Tamar field started to supply gas to the domestic market in 2013. The development was accomplished in a record time of less than 3 years and included a 150km long tie-back pipe connecting its deep-water subsea facilities to the nearshore production platform.  Development of the Leviathan field started in 2016 and first gas is expected in 2019. This field will allow Israel, for the first time in its history, to export gas to the neighboring countries. The Karish field will be developed through an FPSO, the first one in the region.

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 planned to provide natural gas for power to the majority of the industrial facilities in Israel as well as gas for heating in facilities and households.