US-Israeli gas field control nixed over monopoly concerns
JERUSALEM - Israel's Antitrust Authority said Tuesday that US giant Noble Energy and its Israeli partner Delek would not be able to continue holding offshore gas field Leviathan over monopoly concerns.
The decision, pending a confirmation hearing, effectively dismantles the monopoly held by Noble and Delek over Leviathan and Israel's smaller offshore gas findings.
"The entry of Delek and Noble into Leviathan created a situation in which these groups control all the gas reserves off Israel's coasts," the Antitrust Authority said in a statement.
The authority said it would consider defining the two firms' Leviathan partnership as a "cartel".
The size of the Leviathan field is estimated at 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic metres) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate, making it the largest gas deposit found in the world in a decade.
Noble and Delek also control the Tamar field, which holds 250 bcm of natural gas, and lies 80 kilometres (43 nautical miles) west of the northern Israeli port city of Haifa.
The authority had initially proposed an agreement under which Noble and Delek would enter Leviathan on condition they sell two smaller offshore gas fields to enable competition, which was to have been submitted to court within two weeks.
But it eventually went back on its decision.
"The authority received significant indications the agreement would not create a solution to the problem of competition," the statement said.
Noble Energy slammed the move, warning it would cast "a shadow over the future of the gas and crude oil industry in Israel".
Ahead of the announcement, Bini Zomer, director of Noble's local branch, warned any such move would "affect the future of Noble Energy investments" in Israel.
Israel's offshore gas findings have shifted it from costly and unreliable imports to a growing self-sufficiency and the potential to become an energy exporter, recently advancing agreements to export gas to neighbours Jordan and Egypt.
The Jewish state had relied on Egypt for roughly 40 percent of its gas needs, but in April 2012 Egypt annulled the contract following a spate of bomb attacks that targeted the pipeline used to transport natural gas to Israel and Jordan.