An American-Israeli drilling consortium on Sunday announced the discovery of a new Mediterranean natural gas field about 120 km northwest of the Haifa coast.
The Noble Energy-Delek Group said in a statement that the find lies beneath 5,500 meters of sand and water, in 40-meter thick gas- bearing strata, according to the Globes business daily.
The report said the field may contain between 34 billion to 37 billion cubic meters of gas.
Noble's next step is to stabilize the borehole -- keeping it from collapsing -- in order to carry out a series of intensive seismic and electrical tests to further details the makeup of the rock and liquids in the strata, the report said.
The site is adjacent to the significant Israeli-owned Tamar and Leviathan fields, discovered in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Tamar contains an estimated 240 billion cubic meters of natural gas, while Leviathan, 450 billion cubic meters.
Officials told Globes that Israel's smaller Yam Tethys rig, located off the Ashkelon coast, is fast depleting as it is the country's sole source of natural gas. Israel decided to rely solely on the platform's flagging output, due to a dozen bombing attacks by saboteurs on the Egypt-Israel pipeline near el-Arish -- the latest overnight Sunday -- throughout 2011.
Uzi Landau, who heads Israel's Water and Energy Ministry, has made switching over from the Egyptian gas -- whose export came as part of the peace deal between the countries -- to its own resources, a linchpin of the country's energy development policy.
Together, the three finds could, potentially, change the strategic face of the region and turn Israel into an energy exporter.
However, a visiting energy expert told The Jerusalem Post that the country would likely not see a revenue stream before 2020.
"This is a developed economy," said Nick Butler, a former British Petroleum Group vice president of strategy, who was visiting here to attend last week's Herzliya Conference.
"Israel is not a banana republic that has to export its natural resources. I don't see why Israel could not develop gas grids in major cities to bring it to every business and every home. That is what has worked in most European countries, and there is no physical reason that cannot be done here," Butler said.
Meanwhile, the Israel Navy is preparing to significantly boost the security surrounding the country's natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean Sea due to growing threats of attack.
The army's high command recently tasked the navy's missile boat flotilla with securing the Tamar, Leviathan and Yam Tethys drilling platforms off the Haifa coast, the Ha'aretz daily reported.
The rigs are located some 22 km beyond Israel's territorial waters, but are within the country's "economic waters zone," an area that extends up to 130 km into the Mediterranean.
The plan would deploy the missile boats, which have already held protective training maneuvers in the seas around the rigs, to conduct patrols and secure future drilling platforms.
Israel's defense establishment is increasingly concerned about the dangers posed to the offshore rigs by militant groups or an armed conflict with neighboring states.
Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem vowed last July that his organization would not allow Israel to encroach on what he said was Lebanon's maritime sovereignty and seize its oil, gas and water resources.
"Lebanon will stand guard in order to protect all its rights, no matter the cost," Lebanese media quoted Qassem as saying.
Lebanon last year contested the demarcation of its maritime border with Israel at the United Nations, but the international body ruled that the platforms were within Israel's zone.
Israeli defense officials have said that Hezbollah might attempt to target the offshore rigs as well as Israeli ports with explosives-laden vessels and anti-ship missiles.
"The threats don't only concern the rigs and those working there, but also Israel's energy supply. A possible strike against the rigs is a nightmare scenario," a senior naval officer told Ha' aretz.